Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Desired or Required?

Like my co-blogger Ruth and her mother-in-law (see previous post, "The Value of a Woman") and many more women, I'm sure, I am looking for a better balance between what's desired and what's required in my life. Whether I was trained to it or born to it, in my early years I saw my needs as secondary to those of my parents, my brother, and then my husband, children, and friends. Like the archetypical obedient child, I did what was expected of me. I did what was required to the best of my ability, and I didn't spend much time thinking about what I desired. If I wanted or needed something and fulfillment didn't interfere with anyone else, I usually got it. If my desire conflicted with another's, I deferred to what I interpreted as their greater need.

I want you to know that I thought I was being objective, carefully weighing those needs against each other and concluding that the other person REALLY wanted theirs, while I, well, I could get along quite well without having my own way all the time, couldn't I? And didn't it make me happy to see my loved ones satisfied and fulfilled? And didn't I get comfort from avoiding conflict and the possibility of rejection?

In recent years, though, I've started to wonder. Did I perhaps go overboard with the self-sacrifice? Did I turn myself into a wishy-washy doormat instead of the loving and giving nurturer I thought I should be? I'm often envious of people who seem able to stick to their guns and get their own way 90% of the time; but, in general, I don't like them or respect them. The people I admire stand up for themselves in a most pleasant way and get what's important without walking all over everybody else.

My ideal self is assertive without being aggressive, accommodating without being subservient, a partner rather than slave or master. Old habits are hard to break, but I'm strong. I am proud of the woman who is emerging as I move toward my ideal.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Value of a Woman

What is the value of a woman? Searching the internet, I found religious sites, romance and seduction sites, and even a couple of songs, "The Value of a Woman" and "A Woman's Worth." They all seemed to DE-value a woman, making her an object of desire or servitude. Searching for "the worth of a woman" led me to financial sites, a domestic violence site, and a celebration of "Women of Worth" in Vancouver.  Now we're talking.

The 6th annual Woman Of Worth (WOW)™ Conference  held in Vancouver this past May was titled: Empowered Leadership: Celebrating the Magnificence of Women.  One extraordinary day for 800 women that impacts a lifetime ...  The session tracks were Health | Wealth | Leadership | Empowerment | Chocolate Fountains!  I must put this on my calendar for next year. The WOW Event

According to Kofi Annan, Former Secretary-General, United Nations, "The future of the world depends on women."  Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” 

One group of women which has taken action to change the world is Women for Women International. The organization helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives.  Their theory of change: "When women are well, sustain an income, are decision-makers, and have strong social networks and safety-nets, they are in a much stronger position to advocate for their rights. This philosophy and our commitment to local leadership builds change and capacity at the grassroots level." Women for Women International

We won't feel empowered to change the world until we grant ourselves permission to love and respect ourselves.  Girls are often taught not to brag, not to think too highly of themselves, and to serve others first. Being assertive and realizing that we have something to offer the world comes slowly for many of us, and some never reach that point. On her 80th  birthday, my mother-in-law announced, "I'm 80 and I'll do what I want."  She rejected new recipes to try and invitations to attend events for which she had no interest.  I loved the woman she became, full of jokes and more relaxed than I'd ever seen her.  I rejoiced, but I was saddened at the same time.  What a shame to wait until she was 80 to do the things she wanted to do. I vowed then to live my life the way I want it now, and not wait till I'm 80. I value the person I really am, and put aside the small quiet voice that says, "Not worthy."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Something of Value

Since the burglary, I've spent hours searching. First I had to search the house to identify what had been stolen. Then I set off on a seemingly endless soul-searching trek. My advice to myself: When life sends you a lesson, make a lesson plan. It looked like my lesson referred to materialism, and I beat myself up about my attachment to things. I tried to convince myself that I would be a better person if I didn't replace the stolen items. As I grieved over my trinkets and treasures I didn't feel better or wiser; I felt vulnerable, lost, disillusioned, and spiritually impoverished.

When the police detective asked about the extent of our loss, I quoted the prices of the laptop and MP3 player, but I told him that my jewelry wasn't worth much beyond sentimental value.

In the days following the police report, I had to search my memory to come up with an accurate inventory for our insurance claim. Some of the memory jolts stung like a physical blow -- my grandmother's Bavarian crystal necklace, my dad's high school class ring, the Turkish puzzle ring Fred gave me 43 years ago. I had carried these bits and pieces with me all my life and around the world. The hole in my spirit deepened with each addition to the list.

Before my inventory was complete, our insurance claims adjuster asked me for an approximate figure for the jewelry. I couldn't answer. "Would it be less than $2500?" he asked. I felt relieved to reply in all honesty, "No doubt."

Being the person that I am, I entered my inventory in an Excel worksheet. REPLACEMENT VALUE: GRAND TOTAL =SUM(E1:E91). I compressed my lips between my teeth and pushed ENTER. The dollar amount confirmed my growing suspicion: my jewelry had been worthy after all! In a font as clear as Arial Bold my lesson spelled out its meaning. To validate it, I went to my Native American Medicine Deck, shuffled, and drew one card:

"The key word is respect. Learn to assert, without ego, what you are. Respect follows. You must first respect yourself. Walk tall and be proud of the accomplishments you have made."

I take this to heart. My loved ones have told me often enough that I undervalue my talents and accomplishments, just as I had undervalued my jewelry collection. At the end of this search that began with a burglary, I've found a reminder that I am indeed something of value. Now I'm gathering courage to strut my stuff. Maybe I'll check out that interesting listing in New Mexico Kids! Magazine and learn how to beat my own drum -- or start gathering music for the lullaby CD I've dreamed of making. I want to reach out beyond my boundaries, just to see what's there.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Trinkets and Mementos

The trinkets and mementos I gather are physical reminders of what my mind already knows. They elicit the warm feelings, the excitement, or whatever emotion I felt at the time I acquired the trinkets. To me, the mementos have the value of that special moment. But will my children treasure them as I do? They can't experience what I felt.  Yet, the value of the thing is greatly enhanced by the back story, the "provenance", as Antique Road Show calls it. I can tell my children the stories and maybe they will gain an understanding and appreciation of who I am.  Isn't that why we write memoirs? 
Photos serve the same purpose as souvenirs and trinkets. They remind us of special times. Do we really remember all those vacation moments, or is it only the moments we photographed that stay in memory? Without photos to remind us of slender bodies and once-stylish haircuts and bellbottoms, can we go back in our minds' eye to "how we were?"

Memories are the archaeology of the mind.  We are sometimes surprised by what comes floating unbidden to the surface for us to rediscover.  What remains hidden requires concentrated effort to dig down and reconstruct a time and place and the meaning of our time there. What happens when our mind no longer retains the original memory?  Will the photos and mementos remind us of what we no longer know? 

I'll treasure the memories while I can and  leave the mementos for others to discover and wonder.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Stolen Memories

Recent events sparked a childhood memory. I was seven years old when I begged my mom to put my best Christmas presents, white figure skates and a mother-crafted rag doll, on a chair beside my bed. I wanted to see them first thing in the morning to make sure they were real and really mine.

These last few mornings I've awakened to the painful realization that something special will not be there and will never be there again. My mind's eye goes to my jewelry box and confirms that awful sensation of emptiness.

Thieves came one night while my husband and I were camping in Colorado, enjoying a week on an archeology project followed by a long weekend with our kids and grandkids. We arrived home, tired and happy, to find that our sanctuary had been violated.

My trinkets and treasures, tangible mementos of family and friends, birthdays and anniversaries, trips to exotic places, are gone -- maybe to a pawn shop, or flea market, or worse yet, a dumpster.

I cry. I recover. I cry again. Up and down, I flounder in a vain attempt to keep my head above the waves of loss, violation, anger, and hopelessness. They're only things, I tell myself, don't be so attached to mere things. My friend Ellen tells me to be gentle with myself, and I try. I do. Really.

In my down moments I hear my inner voice ask, is this what it feels like to enter dementia? Are the missing rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets a metaphor for lost brain cells in the inevitable decline of ageing?

Those thoughts amplify my misery, so I slide back into contemplation of my desire to live simply and avoid attachment to objects. This burglary is an emphatic reminder, but I'm not sure I'll heed the call. Look, I've already replaced my stolen laptop!

While I'm mourning and struggling, my wonderful daughter is working behind the scenes. She has sent out an appeal to family and friends to give me jewelry to help fill the void. I have received the first piece, a colorful handmade bead necklace strung by my grandson's four-year-old half sister, a child from the same cryobank donor, a child I hope to meet someday. And the second piece is a personal South African treasure of a friend from Foreign Service days, poignantly meaningful because of the connection with overseas experiences.

As my daughter presses into my hand a pair of turquoise earrings given to her by my stepmother, I feel the healing touch of love and empathy. Now I can look forward to the creation of new memories.