Ginger, my 40 lb boxer-lab mixed 9 year old was afraid to risk falling on the treacherously icy steps this morning. And I was certainly not going to pick her up and take her out to do her morning business. Younger, heavier Desi, my beautiful English lab, bounds out and skids across the driveway coming to a stop when she hits the crunchy grass. I grimace, worried that Desi will twist her leg, as Ginger did a couple of years ago, and require surgery. Hmmmm. I never worried about my dogs hurting themselves when they were younger. Before Ginger got hurt. When I was younger. Before I had my own knee replacement surgery which makes me fearful of walking down those two slippery front steps as well.
Aging, and the experiences that come with it, can cause us to be afraid. I remember my elderly mother projecting her fears onto my brothers and me. Always a strong woman, she had become very aware of her frailties. It led her to become anxious about us, her middle aged children. An exotic trip to Bhutan with my husband? My mother worried the entire time we were gone. A trip to downtown Atlanta to see a friend while staying with my parents? Her cautionary comments exposed her fright.
Fear produces an out-of-proportion need to control – to control our environment, and to stop ourselves from feeling vulnerable. Abject fear is the only explanation I’ve been able to come up with to explain the comments and apparent convictions of certain Republican candidates and state legislators. I believe these men, and the women who share their beliefs, may have grown very afraid that the world is passing them by. They have good reason to be afraid. We will not revert to 1950’s ideologies. Women will continue to make progress. Perhaps not without a bump or two. But women’s surge towards equality of opportunity and responsibility will not be stopped.
Retrograde lawmakers and their supporters are not the only ones whose fears are stirred. Too often lately I find my disbelief at the discussions about how some legislators wish government to impinge on women’s choices concerning our bodies tinged with terror. Could women really sit by and let this continue? Can I sit by and do nothing? I carry quite a lot of wounds from the feminist fights of earlier decades and wonder at my layer of self-protectiveness which causes me to hesitate at the front stoop steps of public discourse.
But then I begin to read again from several of the poets of the 70’s and 80’s and am reminded that I am not alone. This may be a different era, but Marge Piercy’s poem “For strong women” still speaks to me: “Strong is what we make each other. Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.” The internet world of women, of all generations, can help us make each other strong. We write and connect and reach out and stand together. And our men join us in this effort.
A second message from the poem is that for women to be strongly afraid in the current political atmosphere is an appropriate response. And being strongly afraid compels me to reach out to others, and look for ways to make us strong together.
Shoot. Even my little Ginger knows about this need to reach out and get things done as a team. This morning she gazed up at me expectantly knowing I had the wherewithal to offer her an alternative so that she could get her job done without risking injuring her repaired joint, or mine. So I closed the front door with its icy steps, walked to the other side of the house, raised the automatic garage door and whistled for Ginger. As it slowly lifted, Ginger scampered under and confidently stepped from covered carport to grass. With no steps to negotiate she squatted down and had her necessary morning pee.
Another poem, actually a prayer, reminds me that age and activism are important companions:
with the wisdom of the crone
who values every one
of her days
but who has not forgotten
in the core
of her aging flesh
the way in which
all things new.
from Night Visions, by Jan L. Richardson