One is not born a woman, one becomes one.
~ Simone De Beauvoir~
I've been writing for a number of years now. Books, blogs, speeches, tweets, grocery lists.
But what I've never really discussed is the thousands of person to person emails I've exchanged with women who have risen above some of the most devastating circumstances one could imagine.
Frankly, I've been quiet about it because I didn't know how to really describe it. I started writing because my son died and my life completely fell apart. Women started to write back because their lives had fallen apart too, and they recognized a little piece of themselves in my shattered bloggable life.
I'll be honest. I wasn't going to respond to them first. I had my own pain, I couldn't handle anything else, and I had honestly never expected anyone to reach out to me.
But my 12-year-old son Brendan, with wisdom beyond his years, sad, "Mom, if people write to you, you have to write them back. If they take the time to write to you, it means they are hurting like we are. Promise me you will write to them, even if you get on Oprah."
My sweet boy, my son, my teacher.
So I did. I clicked reply, and I started having a conversation with these incredibly broken people. And I would tell them that it's okay, I'm broken too. But we can find a way through together. Sometimes we would exchange one or two emails. Other women still check in with me periodically almost seven years later.
So, on this International Women's Day, I wanted to tell you about the women I celebrate. I don't need to look to the news, or a top ten list. I have a beautiful chest in my office that holds the emails and letters of the women I've connected with since I started writing about what matters in life, about the fact that we can be broken and beautiful all at the same time.
There's the woman who wrote to me after her son was shot. He was a police officer, and was killed in the line of duty. The funeral was over and she was sitting in her house surrounded by memories of this boy who wanted to be a superhero. She was trying to find a way to keep breathing in and out because the grief sat like a weight on her chest. She had encouraged him to be that superhero, to follow all of his dreams. And he died, running into danger, being a hero. We cried together for a few months, as we sorted through the tremendous mess of making peace with unanswered questions, unspoken words and unlived potential.
I think about the lady who I exchanged emails with for weeks, as she built up the courage to leave an abusive relationship. She was terrified, physically and emotionally beaten to a pulp, but she was finally ready. She moved into a new apartment, and started a life that she had no idea how she would pay for, all the while knowing that she would look over her shoulder with fear for years to come. But she stood up, not only for herself, but for her daughter, who was her sun, moon and stars. The promise of this young girl's life propelled this mother into action, and Momma Bear tucked her baby behind her, and pushed her way into a new life.
I think about the cancer survivor who emailed me one night when she was hanging on by a thread, chemotherapy having ravaged her physically and mentally. She emailed me because she did not want her children and husband to see her fall apart. She was on empty, so she emailed a stanger in the middle of the night because she read some of my ponderings on life and thought I might understand what it was to be broken. And I did. Woman to woman, we talked about the pain we shared, and what we as women carry quietly to keep the hearts of those who love us safe and secure. She went on to not only survive, but thrive, and turned her experience into a catapult to help others. She, like me, wanted to make sure that people walking a similar path knew they were never alone.
I know there will be much celebration today for the movers and shakers, and the women who have transformed our world with their leadership, intellect, compassion and drive. And each accolade is well deserved. But today, I also want to celebrate the women I've met via email, sitting at my laptop, writing through pain, wondering if anyone was out there. They wrote to me from their darkness, and I replied to them from mine. We ruminated and lamented, we encouraged and consoled.
Most of all, we discovered that as women, embracing the broken mess was what made us beautiful. I read once about the Japanese art of Kintsugi. Broken pottery is repaired with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. It does not hide the breakage or the repair, but embraces it as part of the history of the object, making it more beautiful. No disguises, embracing both the broken and the beautiful.
That is my portrait of a strong wise woman.
We stumble, we fall. Sometimes we absolutely shatter into a million pieces. But, as women do, we dust ourselves off and we stand up and continue the journey. We recognize that we are part of something larger than ourselves, and the strength of our shared stories and experiences moves us and the world forward. We look for the lessons in loss and we search for understanding and meaning.
Strong wise women.
Today I celebrate the courageous women I met in the dark. Mother to mother. Woman to woman.