March 8, 2017 was International Women’s Day. Across the globe, women joined together to celebrate their rights and accomplishments as well as to protest current injustices. From India to Russia, from Africa to the United States, women let their voices be heard…voices of joy and voices of anger…human voices.
While reflecting on the significance of the day, I was reminded that each one of us has a story. Triumphs and tragedies shape our lives. Even more so, our responses to the good, the bad and the ugly – our choices – impact our future. Choice is the opportunity and power to choose. Somewhere in the mix of the intentional and unintentional, the things we have done wrong and the hurts others have caused, as well as the successes we have experienced and the love others have given, we often struggle to find our voice. Yet if we don’t speak the very rocks will cry out. So here’s a bit of my story.
For most of my life, I felt like I didn’t fit in with other women. My eyes would glaze over during conversations about home décor and kid’s activities. The fact that I had never been pregnant also seemed to disqualify me from being part of this circle of women. I had not experienced the initiation process. Therefore, I was separate…alone.
The result of this loneliness was isolation. But then one day, a woman saw me.
I’m not sure when she first noticed. I was taking my little ones to Family School. I was learning more about parenting and discipline. Each week at Family School, this woman – the social worker – would tell me, “Tamara, you are cute. You are smart. And you know what you’re talking about.” At first, these words seemed like a silly mantra from a Saturday Night Live skit. Over time, however, these words became life to me. I would look in the mirror, finding it difficult to look into my own eyes, and repeat the words I was told. Then one day during a session, I broke. I confessed to her that I felt like I was standing naked in the middle of the Arctic with no one around. With an understanding look, a sympathetic ear and a tender heart, she let me know I was not alone.
After that it became easier to talk. Some didn’t want to hear about the pain I felt deep inside. It seemed like they wanted to give me an antidote that would eradicate the effects of the poison instantly, rather than walk with me through the process. Process is messy, time-consuming and uncontrollable. I found an older woman who listened and prayed. She nurtured me through my divorce.
Not only did I talk to her, but I talked to my mom. During my years of silence, I had distanced myself from my parents. But when things fell apart, I couldn’t hide anymore, didn’t want to hide anymore. They welcomed me with open arms. Once again, I realized I am not alone. More importantly, I finally understood that I am loved just because I’m their daughter.
Other single moms embraced me too. Some had been married and divorced…some had never been married. From these extraordinary women, I gained acceptance and support. I couldn’t have made it without their texts, phone calls, prayers, hugs, and visits. By helping me move, picking out paint colors, assembling the kids’ bunk beds, giving me silverware…they resuscitated me. I found my long lost sisters.
One sister in particular held me as I sobbed, crying so long that I soaked her shirt with my tears and snot. Afterwards, I was sure that she would run. Being this real with someone was scary, but she didn’t abandon me. My vulnerability built a bridge between us. Countless times since that first cry, we have talked, prayed and cried together, for her sake and for mine.
From the women who have surrounded me, my mothers and my sisters, I have learned that I am not alone. I am not an outsider, a foreigner. I belong. I am part of the feminine circle…the sacred sisterhood. I am glad to be a woman: tender and vulnerable yet strong and beautiful. We are here for one another. We share life together. We show each other unconditional love.