Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Three years ago this week, Dave and I were in Florence, Italy for the most lovely holiday. As we walked through the city, three years ago, we saw vendors everywhere with bunches of tiny yellow pom-pom-like flowers. They had not been there the day before, but this was Italy, where strikes could break out at any moment, and so apparently, could unusual flowers. Almost every other person seemed to be carrying these flowers, and so, I thought, when in Florence... and made Dave buy me a small nosegay. We asked the north African man who sold them to us -- and who incidentally spoke French rather than Italian or English -- what they were for. He had no idea. It was not until later that evening when we walked past Galileo's old observatory in the hills above Florence to have supper at a little restaurant that we found out. Upon our arrival, I was handed a small corsage made of the same scentless flowers and wished a happy Fete della Dame. It was International Women's Day and the Italian tradition was for women to receive and wear yellow mimosa to celebrate the fact.

This year's version has dawned cold and gray, with rain dashing away the last of the snowdrifts. I walked my daughter to school today and told her what day it was, asked her why she thought it was observed. She was running late, didn't care much and said she had no idea. We talked about the fact that a day like today was to remember the fact that equality was a pretty fresh concept, that in many parts of the world, she would be staying home to help me make supper while her brothers went off to school. She nodded, thought about that a bit.

And I went home to celebrate International Women's Day in a really different way: by finishing something I never should have started, by saying yes to my intuition, by trusting myself rather than voices of prudence, by listening to the man who has supported me in my dreams for more than 20 years, by being bolstered by the encouragement of two good women friends, by saying yes to risky new ventures and no to others.

It felt nearly impossible and it was only in hindsight that I made the connection, only as I took a deep breath afterward that I thought that it was a fitting day to stand for what I know to be right and true and to finally put away something I've been done with for a while.

I was raised in a family where our gender was part of who we were, but not where it restricted us. I've been fortunate to be part of communities and even churches that have affirmed my abilities and not reined me in. I have had a husband who has respected me. So, even though today was hard, it was part of a continuum I am grateful for -- and to do otherwise would have been to stand against the deep and relatively rare privilege I have enjoyed.

To take that hard step, though, today feels significant. It feels like saying yes to a bright bouquet of yellow pom-poms -- and saying thank you to those who have given them to me. It feels like the step is one that shows my daughter and sons how to be in the world. And it makes me think about how I am in the world, and whether in my dealings with people, I recognize how hard it is for some people to step out of the limitations that have been placed on them -- men and women -- and whether I help or hinder them in taking authentic and free steps.

And so, that's the next thing -- to use my hard no to be able to say hard yeses, to hold out a bright bouquet of hope to those who need it most.

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