Why I Marched

img_1721

The election was a gut punch for me. It hit me hard and the future felt dark. I heard about the Women’s March on Washington later that week and knew I had to go. It felt like an imperative to me.

I shared that plan with a friend when we were taking a cooking class last November. What had been planned to be a fun evening ended up being a somber discussion about the state of the country and the impact the election had on each of us. I told India that I was planning to go to the march because it was a tangible way to demonstrate how I felt about the president-elect and the plans he was laying out for our country. She said she had been feeling too down to even think about it, but might consider going.

After the class, she told me about how her husband’s family, who are Japanese Americans, had already experienced comments of discrimination, telling them in Trump’s America, they should go back to where they belong. Their family has been in the US for generations and already endured the internment camps during WWII. A few days later, she texted me and said I’d better be serious about going to DC because she was now committed. Her sisters-in-law were on board and if I wanted, I had a place to stay with them in Philadelphia. I reserved my flight that day.

I didn’t hit me until about the week before just how big the march had become. The numbers expected in DC were several hundred thousand – and there were marches in almost every major city. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of frustration and resistance that was generating this very unified reaction. This was bigger than me being pissed off. This was bigger than a few women who felt compelled to stand up. This was a movement on a massive scale. And I was thrilled to think I’d be a part of it.

One thing to know about me – I hate crowds. I hate them because I have enough claustrophobia that I find them overwhelming. I avoid them whenever possible, and for me to voluntarily sign up for something that involves a boatload and half of people is really out of my comfort zone. That’s how much this march mattered to me.

My trip east was through Chicago. I started to see pink hats at O’Hare and realized that flights directly to DC were packed with women. Since I was staying in Philadelphia and taking a Rally bus into the capital, there were fewer on my plane. But the fact was clear – people were mobilizing. I felt encouraged and uplifted. I arrived at my hosts’ home and immediately felt welcome. They’d been making signs to carry – the group consisted of 6 of us ranging in age from 73 to 33 and included Americans of Japanese,  Chinese, and  European descent. We were all there to say we weren’t OK with policies and plans the new administration intends to enact.

For me, I was there because I can speak up. I don’t fear my government because I have been privileged all my life. There are other voices, however, who don’t feel that same way. I intend to stand up for any voice that feels threatened or marginalized or at risk. That means people from every walk of life and interest. I will not sit by while groups are targeted and think “well, that’s not me, so I’m OK…” The time to speak up is now.

img_1720

The march itself started out for me at 4:30 a.m. We had to be at the bus by 5:15, as I’d volunteered to be a bus captain. That meant helping to get the buses loaded and then be a point of contact as needed. We had 45 people on our bus and we were the lightest of the 5 buses that left that part of Philadelphia. In all, 1400 buses were expected in DC. The ride there was about 2.5 hours and we arrived at RFK stadium about 9 a.m. From there, we walked to the Armory metro station and headed into town. The crowd was thick getting into the station and the trains were packed, but everyone was cooperative and helpful.

We got off at the Federal Center stop and walked toward 6th street. Once there, we saw the crowds and heard the speakers, so we moved in as close as we could. We ended up standing in a section where pea patches had been set up, so we made sure to not stand on the plants. After listening to several of the speakers, including Gloria Steinem, we decided to move and we headed back toward 6th street. This was harder than expected, as the crowd was shoulder to shoulder and moving through them was an effort. We decided to look for a toilet and ended up at L’Enfant plaza where there was a little more breathing room.

img_1728

Everywhere we went, there were marchers. And to a person, they were helpful, supportive, and positive. Even with all the people, there was no time where I felt concerned about safety (other than the sheer volume of people). We ended up heading toward the American Association of University Women, as they’d offered their offices as a place to step out of the crowds for a break. Once there, we were able to use their restrooms, recharge phones, have some snacks and watch a live stream of the event. We watched several speakers from there, including Maxine Waters. She was amazing. We left AAUW to head back toward the rally and meet up with Anna. We had lunch with her and as we left the restaurant, we saw the rally had finally begun moving – and it was coming right toward us. We joined in and marched from I street all the way down Massachusetts to where it finally petered out at about Union Station. People were cheering us on, the marchers were chanting and waving. I had an overpowering feeling of ‘this is what it’s all about’.

At the end of it all, the count was almost half a million people there in DC with us. There was a women’s march on every continent around the world – 600 marches in 57 countries. An estimated total of 5 million people marched – and in the US, the marches were in cities everywhere, almost 470 cities spread throughout the country, not on the coasts as you might hear from some news outlets. This was a global movement and the marches were only the beginning. Activism is alive and well and something that will continue on. I know it will for me.

img_1731

Everywhere we went, people were exuberant. The pink hats were a common theme, along with some of the best collection of homemade signs. It was great fun to read what people had put together. I used one that was created by local artists from Kirkland and added another from NOW on rights for LGBTQIA. The march was a pot pourri of ideas and issues, but that’s what made it great. The metro workers were kind and helpful, the police and National Guard waved and supported us, the atmosphere was rich with positive energy. I thought to myself at one point that I needed to soak it up like sunshine to sustain me in the dark, cold days ahead. This resistance is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in training to make it to the end.

img_1730img_1726

We arrived back in Philadelphia at 9:30 p.m. and I was exhausted – still buzzing, but bone tired. I had to fly out the next morning, and slept soundly knowing I’d done my part. My trip home was great – I saw lots of women in both the Philadelphia and Chicago airports and connected with them, sharing stories and our enthusiasm. One woman asked me to sign her poster – she was an artist and was trying to gather as many signatures as possible. She was taking the poster back to an art gallery outside of Chicago to hang on the wall. I was thrilled to add my name to the board.

Stepping out of my comfort zone was rewarding. I spent 32 hours travelling and was in DC for about 9 hours. It was a whirlwind trip, but I helped make history. And I will keep working to effect change however I can – and I do it because of what I believe in, for the people I love and for those whose voices need to be heard. This is just the beginning. I have been reactivated and I will not stand by quietly.

To all the people who marched on January 21 and to all who will stand up for the right things when the time comes, I salute you.

Starfish

starfish
One of our family stories from my childhood is about a trip I made to Portland with my dad when I was just a little thing, maybe 3 or 4. I only have fuzzy memories of the trip. What I remember most is the retelling of the tale every time we crossed the Columbia River heading south into Portland.

The way my dad told the story, I was taking swimming lessons at the Y and they’d taught me to float by doing the Starfish. A Starfish was basically a dead man’s float, where you put your arms and legs out and float on top of the water. I was really proud of that accomplishment and I remember feeling competent and very grown up.

While we were going across the river, my dad asked me if I thought I could swim across that large stretch of water. As a fairly serious child, I looked down at it, gauging its size and considering the question. I said I wasn’t sure I could swim it yet, but I was pretty sure I could starfish across it. In my dad’s retelling, he always got a good laugh at my seriousness, my determination, and my strategy for how I would succeed. It made me both proud and a little embarrassed as he chuckled at my 4 year old confidence. To this day, I can’t cross the Columbia River into Oregon without thinking about that story with a smile. It’s a piece of my dad that lives on in my heart.

The other day, as I was determined to do something all by myself, my husband offered to help. I told him I just needed to prove that I could do it alone and he replied, “Of course you do, Starfish.” And I stopped – he’d never called me that before, but somehow, in that moment it fit. And I smiled. And couldn’t stop smiling. It was a link back to that childhood story that had been passed on to our kids, and it made me feel close to my father again.

The truth is, I am still that very determined little girl. I consider my strengths, my options, and my strategy when I take something on. I don’t like to fail (see Random Facts About me here) and being careful about what I take on helps me ensure success. That doesn’t mean I haven’t take a run at some pretty wild things in the past, but for the most part, I utilize my very rational thought process as I approach something that seems to be difficult or unwieldy.

As I look at the future and the challenges ahead, I plan to continue to be a Starfish. It will be my warrior name as I take on the self-imposed role of truth teller, light shiner, and torch bearer for hope. I will be tenacious in my resolve to stand up for what is right, to protect those who need protecting, and to take action instead of being passive. I have been awakened from a state of comfort that I know is not going to return. And I intend to add my voice to the mix whenever I can, speaking up clearly and logically. I will use facts, data, and verifiable sources to ensure I am not a part of sharing propaganda. I will hold myself accountable to do my homework as I expect others to. I will not live in an echo chamber of my own making, but I will seek out information and make my own conclusions. I will Starfish the HELL out this thing and make it through.

I think about that little girl (most likely riding in the front seat with my dad, without a seat belt going 70 miles an hour on the interstate…) and I want to feel that kind of certainty and confidence. I can do this. I’ve always known I am capable and now is the time to practice what I preach and get busy.

Dear Jan

janDear Jan,

You’ve been on my mind lately, flitting about the edges of thought, leaving a trail of light, a little like Tinkerbell. You had that pixie quality about you – but in fact, you were more like Peter Pan than Tinkerbell. A tomboy through and through, until you became a girly girl, determined to acquire boyfriends like some of us collected coins.

My memories of you are suffused with this late September light – golden, warm, with the knowledge that the days are getting shorter. This is my favorite time of year, a time when I feel closest to you. You left us too soon, but we’ve been over all that before. I miss you, but that’s been covered, too. After 5 years, there really isn’t a lot more I can say on that topic that I haven’t already screamed about, cried over, or painfully accepted. You are a missing piece I have to go on without and most of the time, I do just that. But today, on September 27, I get to take that piece out and look at it, marvel at it and remember how well we fit into the picture we’d created together. Me without you is still an equation I can’t solve for – the one algebra problem that has no answer. I’ll have to skip this assignment and take the F. And you know I never like failing.

I talk to you in my head a lot. I have these long conversations with you that are full of deep meaning, then I forget what I was thinking before I can write them down. You are with me when I walk the dog or I need to process something or want to share a thought. You don’t talk back – just so you know, it’s still one-sided – I haven’t gone completely nutso. It’s hard to change a half century of habit just because you’re gone.

Did you know we moved? I sent change of address notes, but didn’t have a place to send yours. We completely disrupted our family by selling our home. It felt like the right thing to do and most of the time, I’m still sure. But I wanted to talk to you or mom or dad about it many times, to be reassured I was making a good decision, but I had to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and soldier on. There’s nothing like really feeling you are the grown up when your backup team is gone.. I still miss hearing you tell me you are sure I’m doing the right thing. You made me feel invincible and brave and capable, like I had superpowers. I need to go cape shopping, I guess, because I still feel like the little sister who wants approval.

Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten where your final resting place is. I know I have it somewhere, but I worry I’ve lost you beyond the metaphysical loss. It’s funny how these details come back and haunt me in a way you never do. You are everywhere and nowhere – you are a philosophy, a memory, a way of being. You are the dappled light I dance in on the water’s edge, the nutmeg aroma that means something delicious is baking, the smile from a stranger that makes my heart full.

I’ve lived longer than you now. I guess that makes me the older sister, doesn’t it? I passed you on April 1. I really intend to make every day count, but some days, I’m just a lump on a couch being lazy. I hope you understand – while I appreciate each day, I’m just not tearing things up all the time. Let’s pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts while I sit there. That might make me feel better.

I miss you, Jannie. Thanks for being my sister, my friend, my confidante, and my cheerleader.  You will be in my heart until my last breath.

Your sis,

Erin

jankeverin

Home

For all practical purposes, the words ‘house’ and ‘home’ are interchangeable. They both bring to mind a place where you live, typically with your family. For me, the word home feels warm – it evokes a sense of coziness that house does not. The old saying “A family makes a house a home” is true – the house contains the family, the love, the spirit which truly makes it a home.

We are selling our home. After 21 years here, we have decided to downsize while the market is good, moving away from the place that gave us shelter and held us together. It’s just a building, but it’s been so much more for our family – it is the place I staked my independence following my divorce. It’s where I embarked on a new marriage with hope and joy. We brought home our son a few years later, adding a third child to our already busy home. He’s lived here all his life and now faces a move to a smaller room in a smaller place that I hope will become a home to him.

When I think about the years we’ve been here, I feel like I have touched just about every wall in every part of this house. We have been actively improving it year after year, adding on, remodeling, redecorating, doing the regular maintenance a house needs. I have loved making my yard the garden I’d dreamed of – and feel connected to it at my very roots. I can walk through the garden and touch my plants, seeing the results of years of work come to fruition. All of this has been a labor of love, with an eye toward ‘someday when we sell, we want it to look good’. And we made it look really good – so good, in fact, we began to question why we wanted to sell. But the fact remains – two of our three children have married and moved into homes of their own. A big house is no longer something we really need. It feels empty and unused for much of the year with our youngest now in college. It’s time to let someone else love it.

The sales process was swift. Houses in our area are being snapped up quickly and within a day of listing, we had multiple offers. We wanted to pass our home on to someone who wanted to be a part of the neighborhood and raise a family here. One couple stood out to us as those people. They told us about their love for gardening and art – they could see themselves here, tending the garden, working in the art studio upstairs. It felt right – and we quickly accepted their offer. What it meant to us was the stark reality that we would really be leaving our home. No more ‘someday when we sell’ – that day was here.

A house contains us – a home nurtures us. All the tears, the laughter, the sleepless nights – every emotion under the sun has taken place here. So much love has passed through this place – so many of my memories are rooted here. It will always be a part of me, in a way no other home has been.

This is the longest I have ever lived anywhere. We moved a lot when I was a kid – the longest in any one place was ten years in our Golden Gardens home in Seattle. Giving my kids a stable place to call home was a big priority for me. I think I learned a lot of resilience moving around growing up, but it was hard being the new kid over and over again.

Starting soon, we will enjoy being condo dwellers for the next few years. We’ll work on building our next home and making the move to Whidbey Island one of these days. For now, we’ll say a loving goodbye to the place that kept us warm and safe and dry all these years, leaving behind the good memories and good karma that has come from the joy, the pain, the happiness and sadness every family shares.

Out of Season

IMG_20150503_104915
I love spring. It has always been my very favorite season – something about the suddenness of things bursting into life after being dormant all winter fills me with hope and gives me a feeling of wonder.

I have posted about the beauty in my garden as the early bloomers appear or about the glory of the nesting Great Blue Herons as they begin the cycle of bringing their chicks into the world. They are reminders that spring is here and all is right with the world.

Things have a time, a purpose, a season and the pattern is familiar and comforting. Then my thoughts drift to my sister, my friend, my constant companion. We often talked by phone as I took my walks that led me past the herons, especially toward the end of her life. I’d walk and tell her what I was seeing, describing the hungry chicks calling for their food like rusty hinges squawking with life.

It dawned on me earlier this week that I am almost exactly the age she was when she died. That thought stopped me in my tracks. I can’t imagine being ready to leave my life. It is staggering to think about, really. Her time was cut short – she was an out of season loss. Not everything conforms to the patterns or the timing of nature. It’s been five years this year that she lost her fight with pancreatic cancer and it’s gone by in a flash, while every day without her has felt too long.

As I think about it, I am reminded to live each day fully, as she chose to: to revel in the everyday things and marvel in the beauty of the world. She was an inspiration as she approached the end of her time with us. She wanted nothing more than one more day in case she had the opportunity to meet someone new and maybe touch another life with meaning. She was an optimist and kept her childlike wonder even as she faced the death sentence she’d been given. I loved that about her. I loved so much about her.

Jan, in her field of gold
I saw a picture of her flash by on my screensaver yesterday. It was taken a month or so before her death. She is standing in a field, lit up with golden sun at the end of the day, looking fragile but peaceful. She told me before she died that she visualized her home in heaven – she believed fully in what comes next – and saw it in a field just like that, lit with golden sunlight. Seeing that picture, I am filled with joy, then sadness at losing her, then anger at it coming too soon. All those emotions roil through me in a split second and then I say a silent “I love you, I miss you, it’s not the same without you” and smile. Everything has a season. Hers just came too soon.

Friday Flash Fiction

Sean Fallon
Photo Courtesy of Sean Fallon

This made me think back to the days when finding the right battery was critical to my young kids. It seemed like every single one of their toys needed a different kind. And then, once I found (or more likely, purchased) the batteries, I’d regret it because it usually meant they were toys that made noise.

I’ve always thought there’s a special spot in hell for people who design annoyingly noisy toys.

Word count: 102

Powerful

“Hey! My Gameboy stopped working! What the…”

“Mommy! Darling Dance-A-Lot stopped playing…”

“Waaaaah!! No sound…”

My kids made more noise than the toys I’d surreptitiously sabotaged. I knew it was short-lived, however. I had a plan.

“Here – try one of these,” I said in my most convincing voice. “It’s something you’ll love.”

Eying me suspiciously, they turned to look. I held out the treats, calling them to me like the Pied-piper.

“Books, my sweets. Quiet, lovely, books.”

With a little persuasion, they settled in with their new found friends, each one a doorway to a new world. A much quieter world.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.

© Erin Leary

Why Women Rock

Twain Quote

In my “About Me” section on this here blog, I have a list of 25 Things About Me. Number 5 on that list is “I sometimes think that I relate better to males than females but I wouldn’t revoke my membership in the sisterhood for anything. Women rock.” and that sums up my thinking about my women friends to a tee. I have some amazing women friends and I count myself lucky to be in their company.

Some of these women have known me since I was a child – Laurie J. and I met in second grade. Lori M. and I were college roommates. Others are from high school, college, various jobs I’ve had along the way in my career – but all of them have a singular theme: With these women, I have given up pretense. I am my true self, imperfections and all. That is why they are so meaningful to me.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure (and it really was just plain old fun) to spend a weekend in Coronado with 23 women from my college days at Stanford. Some I knew really well. Some I was just meeting that weekend. But the fun part was we could all be ourselves and show up at breakfast in PJs or running clothes or fully decked out and ready for the day and be equally accepted. It’s the best feeling in the world to be with people who just let you be you.

group 3
This group has been doing this in one form or another for over 25 years. It was something that started as people realized seeing each other only every 5 years at a reunion wasn’t going to cut it. Now it happens when someone plans the weekend, not on a set schedule. Sometimes it is only a handful of women going somewhere truly exotic – but at the core, it is this bond of familiarity that keeps people coming back.

My first outing with the group was white water rafting in Oregon about 15 years ago. Lori invited me and I figured it was a great way to spend a few days with her, never really factoring in the rest of the group. I had a great time with everyone and I felt comfortable being in their company. I remember one trip to Lake Tahoe a few years later where I was really struggling with my sister’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and had a very heartfelt, honest conversation with one of the women there who happens to be a doctor. Her compassion and truth touched me deeply – and helped me prepare for what was ahead in a way I might never have been able to do.

Group 2

When we get together, there is always laughter and stories and wine and food. We are a loud group to be around, but the kind of group you look at and think “I’ll have what they’re having.” We just have fun. We talk about kids and work and parents and challenges and successes – no subject is off the table. And your feelings are always allowed.

This particular group includes some amazingly accomplished women – doctors, lawyers, finance professionals, education professionals, stay at home moms – it’s a cross section of talent. This diversity means you get some really different perspectives and ideas. I have loved seeing how conversations ebb and flow when I am with these women. And following one get together, someone shared this article, an excerpt of which is below. Apparently, we’re not the only ones to believe in the power of female friendship.

A friend of a friend wrote last summer that she just finished taking an evening class at Stanford. The last lecture was on the mind-body connection – the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman, whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends.

At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.

Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences.

Physically this “quality girlfriend time” helps us to create more serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well-being.

Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf? Yes. But their feelings? Rarely.

Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.

There’s a tendency to think that when we are “exercising” we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged – not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!

Talking with a girlfriend is as good as going to the gym? Sign me up.  In another article sent by one of this last gathering’s attendees focuses on the value of women friends as we grow older. It’s safe to say I don’t need any convincing at this point – I know the power of these friendships first hand. They have held me up through all the slings and arrows of life’s misfortune and cheered me on when I was riding high.

227128_2006090921901_1532514918_32167117_6372996_n

I have women friends that I do weekends away with who are from earlier in my life and we can pick up where we left off in a heartbeat. It’s comforting to be with people who know your whole story and see you for not just who you are today, but that younger woman you once were. That makes me feel connected in a way that is truly special. It’s something I realized I really missed when I lost my parents and sister – these women know me through and through. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I know it matters to be fully known by someone else.

I’ve often thought that I would love to be able to gather all the women who are special to me in one place for a Grand Salon – to have them mix and mingle with the sole purpose to be to bond with each other and become a larger support system. That may have to stay a dream, but I think it might be time for me to at least plan the next weekend adventure.

I remember my mom talking about “the girls” when she would plan an afternoon of bridge or a lunch at our house. These women were from her younger days, the mysterious time of her life when she wasn’t just our mother, but her own person. Those girls have all passed away, but mom kept her female friends going strong until her own death. She must have figured all this out long ago.

I plan to follow her example and so to my dear friends, old and new – thank you for being in my life, thank you for all you have shared with me, and thank you for letting me be me. Every single one of you rock.