For me January is a time of reflection. Not because of New Years, since I'm not one for resolutions, especially those requiring will power - something I don't put much stock in. There are other reasons for this state I'm in today.
One of the prompts for reflection is that I celebrate my anniversary with the non-profit I work for every year this month. And as of today, I've been working with the same organization for 19 years, 17 of those as the Executive Director. I know that's unheard of in this day and age. As I explained to our staff this week, at about 10 years I began to feel those questions about "where am I going with all this." Our culture expects us to want more/bigger/better all the time. But I've been content with what I do professionally. More than that, I feel lucky to get paid to do work that is a passion of mine. Some have to work to sustain themselves and their families. I get to work in a job where I'm contributing to changing the little corner of the world I live in - and that's as good as it gets as far as I'm concerned.
And with the anniversary comes the performance review. But this year its even bigger than that. We're in the midst of preparing for strategic planning and have recently completed an "environmental scan" of our agency and our work. This week I got the feedback on all of that in preparation for the planning. I suppose I ought to take it all objectively, but I'm not up to that today. Since I tend to put my heart, soul and mind into my work, how other people view that is important to me.
Finally there is the personal. I have a birthday this month and will turn 54. No particular milestone this year. But birthdays are always a time of reflection, aren't they? At our bookgroup meeting last week we spent some time talking about the personal work we've done in our lives. I was commenting that I've come a long way in changing just about everything I had grown to think and believe about myself and the world in the last 25 years or so. At one point I think I said "enough." At least, enough about me already. I know there are other "issues" I could tackle in my life, but its time to get on with living. Perhaps I've come as far as I want to go in this life and I'll tackle the rest next time around. But there are ghosts from the past that still haunt my dreams and rear their ugly head when I least expect it.
All of this reflecting led me back to one of my favorite poems by Marge Piercy. She definitely speaks to me today. There are a lot of different threads to this idea of a "strong woman." And I feel them all in my reflection today.
For strong women
A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears
in her nose.
A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why are
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why
aren't you dead?
A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid, She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which is issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.