Bearing Witness and Pushing Through

Oh, yes yes yes! So much of Danielle’s imagery is familiar to me, resonant like the deep ringing of a gong: truth.

A woman makes a cup of her heart. This reminds me of my musing about whether the propensity to feel both deep sadness and deep joy is about capacity or contrast. But Danielle’s onto even more. She reminds me of the way women connect, often instantaneously, and of how a woman “carries your story with her.” Absolutely right. In this way, I am a repository of thousands of stories I have heard over the years, from intimate friends and casual acquaintances. I am composed, in large part, of the stories of the women I have known. Of their wisdom and humor. Of their narrative.

Sometimes people criticize me for taking on the emotions of others, tell me this is only bogging me down. Maybe it is: I have wondered before if I am simply too porous. But Danielle reminds me that there is a gift in this, too. That this is just part of what we women do. We carry others’ stories with us.

Women feed each other, literally and figuratively. Food is comfort, and it represents nourishment writ large. I’ve been reminded of this over the years, by the food my mother brought to me when I couldn’t see straight in the days after Grace’s birth, by the organized bring-dinner-over schedules that gathered around a neighborhood friend undergoing treatment for cancer, by my daughter’s firm preference for my hokey homemade birthday cakes over fancy store-bought ones.

This reminds me of a passage from Eat, Pray, Love, where Elizabeth writes about learning of a family whose mother and three year old son were both diagnosed with cancer in one year. Her reaction: “Oh, wow. That family needs grace.” Her sister’s reaction: “Oh, wow. That family needs casseroles.” What we realize is that casseroles are grace. Food is comfort, food is solace, food is a concrete way that we take care of each other. To provide bounty on the table is a way some people represent their spirit’s generosity.

Adjunct to the notion of women feeding each other is Danielle’s most provocative question: Who asks you if you have everything you need? That is an easy answer for me: women. Always women. My mother, my sister, even my daughter. My female friends. This kind of being mindful of others’ needs seems to me a quintessentially female trait. It is the women I love who both care about and anticipate what I need. They call after doctor’s appointments to see what the news is. They remember to have a nut-free cupcake for my son. They send a book through the mail, just because they read it and they think I might like it. They ask what I need, they ask again, they don’t stop asking, even when I don’t know what I need and when my tears threaten to drown both of us.

There is one quote that reminds me of these qualities. I sent it to Danielle today and that she included in her post’s comments:

“Women do not leave situations like this; we push up our sleeves, lean in closer, and say, “What do you need? Tell me what you need and by God I will do it.” I believe that the souls of women flatten and anchor themselves in times of adversity, lay in for the stay.”

– Elizabeth Berg

Women touch you. This reminds me of a story like the one Danielle tells. When my grandmother was very ill, in her hospital bed, my mother would massage her feet with lotion. I never thought of my grandmother as a particularly physically affectionate person, and I think this level of intimate caretaking was new for both she and my mother. But still, my mother sat at the end of her bed, rubbing her feet, a benediction, a way of holding her own mother tight as they drew near the precipice of death.

Women push. Yes, we push out babies. Of course. But it’s more than that. We push each other, too. I recently had a soul-rattling argument with a very dear, old friend. It threw me, bigtime. And I thought a lot about it. It pushed me to consider the ways in which I might come across as insensitive, uncaring. That is a pushing that is uncomfortable, but unimaginably useful. We also push through each others’ crap, to the molten core of who we each are. Push past the bratty and the bitchy, through the thick forest to the luminous clearing we know is there.

So, Danielle, thank you for your warm and wise celebration of the ways that women relate to each other, the ways we bear witness, the ways we feed each other, the ways we push and push and push, the ways we excavate the layers of ourselves, each other, and the world. Thank you, Danielle, for honoring the brilliance of our gender. You make me proud to be a woman. Thank you.

9 thoughts on “Bearing Witness and Pushing Through”

  1. Lindsey – Thank you! This is something I needed to read this morning. I am off to visit Danielle now. 🙂

  2. Thank you, Lindsey, for your thoughtful reflections on Danielle's words. I enjoyed revisiting her post with your examples and anecdotes in mind.

    I am realizing more and more the ways in which my relationships with women are impossibly distinct from those with men. And the ways in which I have become more of a feminist since becoming a mother due to the way that motherhood has strengthened my bond with other women.

  3. Once again a wonderful post – one that has really got me thinking this morning! On the one hand it makes me realize why I cherish the women in my life as I do. Why I yearn for their company on the days that I need help standing back up or an understanding ear. But at the same time, it makes me realize why I often found it "easier" to be friends with men especially in my younger years. I never expected as much from men so I was not as easily disappointed and they never expected as much from me so I was able to keep myself closed off a bit more. Female friendships take nurturing and care. They are at times a lot of work. But this posts brings home the point that this "work" is more than worth it in the end.

    Thanks Lindsey!

  4. fantastic reflection. so beautifully written and sincere. and now i'm going to re-read anita diamant's "the red tent" for the umpteenth time to remember to cherish the incredible women in my life, both near and far.

    this post was a gift. thank you.

  5. Hey woman my woman.
    Much of my growing up was surrounded by women. Home was always a matriarchy. School was an all-girls' boarding school. For many years after that my primary relationships – even romantic – were with women. And now? Now I crave the connections that I have made with women through the blog because my real life, my busy life with kids life, does not yet afford me the time to make such strong connections.

    I am a giver. And I am also a taker. And a needer. If that makes sense. I need women in my life. Women are my central ground. My sounding board.

    And these are all the reasons why I talk and write about how foreign my life feels in a house full of boys.

    Sigh. Again. Many signs. Again.

  6. This is unvarnished and glittering truth, for so many women.

    I'm certain you aren't old enough to have seen the original Star Trek "Empath," but it was quite a wonderful episode. I was a child (natch) when I saw it, but I never forgot it. I remember thinking – yes, that is me. But in fact, that is woman in general. Not always, but so often. It is our greatest gift and our greatest challenge – we are indeed the vessel of so many hurts as part of the process of wanting and needing to heal those hurts. To touch, as you said. And through our touch, to reassure.

    We are witness to much, push through much, cradle the fears and dreams and suffering of others. We are also strong as nails. We prove it daily, hourly, not only as mothers but as friends, daughters, workers, neighbors.

    I love this post. I love how you bring together so many sources of this knowledge that we feel even when we don't articulate it. It is not the sole territory of women, but it is, perhaps, our "soul" territory.

  7. Apologies, Lindsey.

    My computer decided to have a nervous breakdown about 4 hours ago. I am stumbling along on my son's ancient laptop, and hit a wrong key.

    (I may be commenting a bit less until my laptop issues are resolved.)

    A wonderful post.

  8. I too loved Danielle's post. And I love that you have continued the threads of her conversation here. I do think there is something incomparable and elusive about women, an almost innate openness and nurturing and interest (that obviously varies from person to person). I am amazed at how often society tells the story of women/mothers in the throes of bitter battles (ideological and other) when the reality is that there is a genuine bedrock of support by and between women. (Much of the time.)

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