Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Wound in the Soul

Woman and Children by Katte Kollwitz

Let me explain why I feel so strongly that it is the woman who must make the decision to bring a child into this world and why outlawing abortion is not the answer.
I speak with authority on every front imaginable. I was adopted and know the life long soul wound that it brings,
 I was a catholic nun and came from the very faith that is fueling the oppression of women in this country surrounding womens' right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I was raped, twice, once when I was young and impressionable, homeless, penniless, and couch surfing, the second time by a former lover and therapist; a married man who made me sign a notarized letter releasing him from all responsibility if I intended to keep his baby.
I am a nurse and have studied what it means to care for a life.
 I am an anthropologist, who has studied the oppression of women and the effect this has upon our world.

Life Begins When We Wake Up

I woke up the day I became conscious of a deep painful longing. It grew worse in evenings when darkness fell and when the emptiness of night mirrored the wound in my soul. I feel it now as I write. It’s a part of me, belongs to me; I accept it and own it. It was not always so.This longing is at its core biological and energetic. My body was ripped away from the body that carried me for 9 long months. My body craved that breast, and belly. My body craved those arms, and the soft shoulder where my head should be. I feel it now as I write.

I Never Called her Mommy

This mother body is not an empty vessel where an egg magically grows into a zygote, an embryo, and then a fetus. That’s how we talk about the mother. Mothers don’t have babies; mothers make babies. This cell expands and grows from the material of the mother.  From the material … Mater+terrial,  from Mother earth. The proteins, minerals, vitamins, blood, bone, that are made from the protein, mineral, vitamin, blood, bone of the mother.  Drawn into her body, the Mother Body grows, nourishes, each and every developing cell, tissue, organ, and continues to do so for 9 long months. The expression, for every child a tooth is a tale of the calcium that is washed from the mothers mouth into the blood stream and into the babies, bones. This being is born from the body of the mother and until she draws her first breath, she is part of her mother. Until she polks her head out into the big blue world, she is part of her mother. This is a fact. Call her what you will, she is part of her mother’s substance and flesh and every cell in my body knows it. I still feel the closeness at night in the dark. I still feel the placenta at my head the walls of the womb against my shoulders, my back and feet. My body remembers being in my mother’s body. When her body says so mother and baby work together to make the arduous journey down the birth canal.  

So, the story unfolds, 

I don’t know where this sperm came from or how he found his way into this woman s body. Was it by a legitimate rape, a  God given rape, or an illegitimate rape? Was it because she let him in, seduced by the belief that she is only valuable if she is a mother? Is it because society has told her it is cool to have a living baby doll? I don't know; I only know what they wanted me to know. And that was nothing.

My mother grew up in a community that condemned her because she had a baby inside. The community said you must have this child. To end it’s life is murder. You must keep it or you must give it away.  Her grandfather wouldn’t endure the shame.  So he required her to have this baby whether she wants it or not; what are the chances that she even knew what she was getting into?  

So more often than not, the child, rejects the infant. She turns her face away, her breast and her belly. She does not want this child. She did not want a child. She gets depressed, even psychotic. There is no congruence between her desire and her condition.  She is infected with a societal dis-ease.

I Was An Unfit Mother

Before I had ever left the convent I woke up to the end of life as I expected it to be. I faced my rejection of communal life, and the next terrifying thought the most depressing I could imagine was a stale old life in Norwalk. California, with a balding husband, a station wagon, a dog and 2 children. Nothing about that life appealed to me and indeed nothing in my life prepared me for it. On this, the most terrifying night of my life, I made a solemn promise to myself, “I’ll take care of you. always”. 

So, I know the pain of the woman faced with the future she rejects. I know the pain of being the mother who does not want the life of being mother to children. Furthermore, I know the pain of being incapable of the kind of attention and responsibility that good mothers need to be good mothers. I know.

I also know the pain of feeling my body change to prepare to grow a being inside my womb. The first time I was pregnant, my whole being was laser focused on nesting, on finding and making a home. But there was no home, only a sleeping space in a dark lower room where I had a lamp, pillows, a blanket and sleeping bags and a suitcase. There was no nest, no home.

My first abortion was delayed because I was not allowed to decide for myself whether to be a mother or not. I had to find a psychiatrist who would judge me unfit to be a mother. The year was 1967, before Roe v Wade.   So for those who believe that making abortion illegal will prevent abortion. Think again. Maternal suicides will increase, maternal death from coat hanger abortions will increase and the result of both is a child who will live his or her life separate from the body of the mother who bore him or her.
We have a terrible problem in this country  - an exceedingly large number of children in foster care. Many of these children are not adopted. They often are not adoptable; perhaps they feel the pain in the soul and the rage it brings on. They act out. The prisons are filled with sons and daughters who have been forced to live and grow up in homes that are toxic. Homes without mothers who want and love them. With mothers who bathe their minds in coke, meth or alcohol to kill the pain. Mothers who are too weak to stand up to an abusive spouse. Mothers who resent their offspring because it is safer than hating the almighty god, father, mother, or church who made them mother this infant when their destiny lay elsewhere. Even homes with loving foster parents and adoptive parents who, no matter how loving they are cannot heal that initial wound in the soul.
Abortion is about breaking a link in a chain before the damage is done. Abortion is about protecting the sanctity of the mother child bond. It is about making sure that there is a nest for the egg; fertile soil for the acorn, a warm safe home for the child.
I chose twice to break this link, because in my soul I knew it was the right decision. Even in the second case when I wanted the baby, I knew it was not to be; I had a different calling.

 They call me Mother Earth; They Also Call me Wolf Mama

I was raised to be a nun; a community healer and teacher. I have a capacity for love and compassion that is huge as anyone will tell you. I also have the capacity for anger, violence, irresponsibility and carelessness. I have lived a long and productive life giving my talents and my life for my community the world and the planet. That is what I was prepared to do just as mothers are mentored to be mothers.
Forcing a woman, whether she is raped or not, to take on the life consuming task of creating, nurturing,caring for, and binding her life to another human being is wrong. It is destructive for mothers, for children, for families, for communities, and for society.  Strong supportive families create strong healthy children and adults. Our prisons are filled with the victims of forced conception: Mothers in jail for abandonment, for beatings, for infanticide. Children in jail for crimes petty and grand.  This isn’t about the stories with a happy ending, its about the millions of other stories that don’t work out for the best. Fortunately, I made the right choice and it is not yours to judge. Please share my story. It has taken me 50 years to have the courage to tell it, not because I felt shame but because I feared for my life. How dare you judge what is in the hearts of the countless women who have been holding their stories close who like Mary, Pondered these things in her heart.

""Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny - she has something to fulfill, some message has to be delivered, some work to be completed.
You are not here accidentally - you are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The Whole intends to do something through you."


Friday, September 21, 2012

Women of Great Heart I Greet You

“Responsible caretaking is a central value of life.” Margaret Mead

Well, here we are, women of great heart, taking up her  challenge. Here we are making friends, sharing stories; cooperating is our natural way.  We work close to home and to our children. We create alliances with those we see every day. We heal wounds. We make common cause in our daily lives and learn from each other. We are all sisters in an immense learning community of women.

Women of Great Heart I Greet You
Each morning, we meet. We greet, face to face, on the street as we walk our infants in strollers, at the market, or the well.  And now through the miracle of webs and clouds, we cross the miles, the oceans; the vast spaces evaporate like the dew in the morning sun. We are heart to heart, playing and working side by side, I in my village in the north; you in your village in the south, or west, or east. We carry in our hands our magic boxes linking our knowing in ways we might only have imagined.

I have always known you were there but you seemed so far away. I imagined that you knew not that I cared whether you had clean water, or a chicken to lay an egg, or gruel for your children. But I did care, only I never imagined that I could let you know.

We are 3.5 billion strong and we are mending our nets, we are mending the fabric of soil beneath our feet. Can we share as women have always shared, a cup of sugar, an extra blanket; through the web. Can we, like the pulses of energy coursing through our bodies heal our world as we heal our families?
We can join together with other women of great heart and join the love in every woman’s heart; this love is an ocean bathing our world.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are you breathing? Thank a tree

MK Sandford Photographer, Kucera tree, alive and well.

 Advances  in cell biology, genomics, psychology have given us the gift of being able to experience the Natural world in such a way that it doesn’t take away the joy and the mystery of it. Science that brings us closer to understanding the inner life of all beings.
Consider this video animation of our cellproteins undertaking the task of identifying an unwelcome guest in our cells and escorting him out. The immune system is responsible for keeping our body clean and orderly. It works day and night to keep things in order. Take a breath and listen to the music and watch your body at work.

In her biography, A Feeling for the Organism, Evelyn Fox Keller quotes Barbara McClintock explaining her loving attachment to plants.

“Animals can walk around, but plants have to stay still to do the same things, with ingenious mechanisms. For instance, … if you pinch a leaf of a plant you set off electrical impulses. You can’t touch a plant without sending out an electrical pulse. There is no question that plants have all kinds of sensitivities. They do a lot of responding to their environment. They can do almost anything you can think of. … In the summertime, when you walk down the road, you’ll see that the tulip leaves, when it’s a little warm, turn themselves around so that there backs are toward the sun. You can just see where the sun hits them and where it doesn’t hit. Actually within the restrictive areas in which they live, they move around a great deal. “

Indeed when we can know that within a stately grove of alders, pines, firs, and cedars billions of cells are alive and thriving we can more simply enter into a dialogue with a tree understanding that it knows we are there. Trees tell us things. They tell us about the drought, and when rain is coming. Droopy leaves are so common that we take them for granted.  Yet those leaves Cry out "I Thirst".. Where have we heard those words before?
Does a tree have a brain, central organizing principle that guides it’s inner workings?  Plant's guidance systems are decentralized. Each cell has its own ‘brain’ called a network of cell nuclei. These nuclei are in constant communication with each other via their cell's membranes. Possibly because they are stationary trees have no need for quick responses, or to think their way out of a situation, their responses are slow and steady.  Plants respond to different levels of excitation.  I wonder if plants respond to anger or sadness or to wonder and awe. Do they know how we feel? I believe they do. Trees give us so much, they are the lungs of the planet and we depend upon them for our lives. I am so immensely grateful for the oxygen they expire, to our planet, to the shade they give us to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays. So as one local bumpersticker put it,  Are you breathing? Thank a tree.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Culture Shock and My Research Question

Every study begins with a question, often called the research question. My research question was born out of the clash between my Irish Catholic Mary worshipping culture and the dominant U.S. culture.

In my Irish Catholic World all were welcome in our home. Hobos,as they were called during the depression, who came for a handout, were brought into the kitchen for a meal.  Hospitality was the predominant value of the Immaculate Heart Community of nuns who enveloped our family in angel wings. The dominant value was " Treat all with kindness whether stranger or family."
Mary the Mother of God was the Mother of us all and I was her handmaiden, deeply concerned with the suffering of all God's people yet separated from the ways of the world.

All men and women are children of God and should not be hurt. Sex is never to be talked about. It doesn’t exist in the world of an Irish Catholic child who never questions or challenges this worldview.
I experienced traumatic culture shock when I first discovered the dominant worldview prevailing in America in the 1960s. I became part of the counterculture; I saw in it some of the qualities of my own culture. It is safe to say that I was in no way prepared to be a woman negotiating within the American Cultural Domain. As the journey continues, the clash of cultures will be made clear.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Children by Cassandra Clifford
World Water Day March 22 2009

Without water a child can live for two weeks or less. In olden days our predecessors were blessed with pristine natural sources of water and the water spirits were their constant companions.  As our species became more resilient and resource rich we built our homes farther and farther from sources of fresh water. Fresh water becomes scarce and distant as we increase and multiply. Children around the world drink polluted water. Some say the wars over water will be as violent and deadly as the wars over oil have been .

From the Foreign Policy Blog

"More than 1 billion people live without access to safe water and 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Today is World Water Day, and as was stated in post earlier this month, Life or Death in Each Drop, that while we in developing nations take each sip of life saving water for granted, each sip to a child in the developing world could be the drop that kills. Water for as simple as it seems is a complex and global fight, that has yet to see the finish line in sight. While many wonderful and sustainable water initiatives and programs are out there, the increasing population continues to strain the already burdened effort, and water and sanitation issue."

In my study, I was told that "seeing that they get enough to drink" was one way people care for each other. Whether it is a patient in a nursing home who depends upon a nursing assistant to bring her water each day, or a child waiting for his mother to arrive with the days supply of water, making sure that they have enough to drink is an act of care.

One of the most important conclusions I drew from my research is that it was never enough to only look at the caring dyad (patient and caregiver) to predict morbidity and mortality from dehydration. Context, and systematic factors had to be taken into account. In the nursing home participants told me that seeing that they get enough to drink was NOT something they did when staffing was short. It was not considered essential by the staff. So, to predict dehydration, it was important to know the number of staff who were working as well as knowing the vulnerability of the patient to dehydration. When staff were rushed and not atune to look for differences among patients they would simply place a full pitcher of water in the patients room. Without knowing if the patient would drink on their own, or could reach the pitcher, having water was not enough. Patients needed encouragement and sometimes assistance to reach the water or they might as well not have it at all.

In the global disaster that leaves a billion people without fresh water, or a way to clean the water, they have, having water is not enough. As climate change creates both droughts and floods, getting water to those who need it may be as simple as providing containers to collect rain water,  or a means for purifying it. This may not be a major technical feat but choosing to address it effectively may be one of the greatest ethical challenges of our time.

Could a low tech low cost solar water purlfication system bring clean drinking water?

Our First Home

Our first home was under the sea. Our living cells were first formed in the warm bath of the ocean. Humans and other primates, in fact all mammals come from life that first began, in the amniotic sea, reminiscent of their first union in the ocean when two cells became one creature, a sponge, scientists believe. As if our cells could remember those days of old, taking their substance from the mother who bears this sea within her womb, those cells increase and multiply and in one lifetime, pass through the stages of our evolution to slowly manifest an embryo indistinguishable from lower order mammals. Only near the end of its stage of life within the amniotic sea does it become distinguishable as a human being.
Sea water flows in us and through us, in and around each and every cell. However as though we had angered the gods we could no longer survive on the salt water of the earth and were forever destined to search for the pristine waters that fell from the sky as though the gods wanted us to know that all good comes from above.  Falling from the heavens and collecting in glaciers, ice flows, underground aquifers, fresh water pours over the face of the earth and is needed to replenish our interior salten seas. In the rivers and rivulets within us, oxygen and nutrients are transported to the billions of cells that live inside our skins. Scientists now know that these cells not only carry our dna passed down to us through generations of couples, cells contain their own dna.

Man has disturbed the waters, disrupted the balance between water and ice, and as the waters rise, we find we are drowning.  It may be too late to reverse the tide coming towards us but perhaps we will be more compassionate, more aware, more respectful as the tides recede. May it be so. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Care Really is Like Water

Continuing the metaphor of water: How we studied Care

Science and reason are ways that we humans guard against self deception.   True scientific experiements control for everything besides the variable that is being tested including the biases of the experimenters. Scientific studies are used to determine cause. For example, Does penicillin kill bacteria?  After a study is completed it is published in a journal that is reviewed by other scientists who are familiar with the field of study who can evaluate the study method and results. Science is a community process in which one study builds upon another. These studies comprise a body of work on a particular topic. These methods work well in physical, chemical and biological sciences. However in social, behaviorial, psychological and anthropological studies of human individuals and communities we have to use different methods. Usually we can demonstrate a correlation between two things. For example, shoe size and reading ability are positively correlated. This means as your shoe size increases most often your reading ability also increases. However, no one would argue that shoe size causes reading ability or vice versa. Both are correlated with advancing age in infancy and childhood. Yet neither is actually caused by advancing age.

Before scientists can study things they first need to define and identify them. Because care is so much a part of our daily lives, we hardly notice it. There are no rituals or rites for caring. No cultural markers that identify it. There is no beginning of the job of housework, there is no retirement party as there is for a career in the marketplace. Care is continuous and everlasting. Much of a woman’s life is consumed with giving care, planning care and recovering from care work.

Care is like water nurturing all life. Like water, care takes its shape, speed, form from the circumstances in which it finds it’s self. Water in the frozen north, is ice, in the mountains it rushes down stream, in the ocean it laps on the shore or rolls and heaves, in massive waves.
When I began my research, I new a great deal about how to give care but very little about how we humans think about care. What for one was compassion, for others was a days work.  I also knew very little about the extent to which it varies from person to person, setting to setting, need to need. Most of all, I wanted to know why there was so much variation in pay between the work done in the homes and nursing homes,  and that done in hospitals.  We anthropologists are used to studying humans by living with them and learning their ways. We observe, make friends, and ask questions. However like other scientists, we use checks and balances to avoid putting our own biased interpretation on what we see. One way we do this is by using statistical methods to test our observations.  My methods were developed by Louanna Furbee and Robert Benfer, my mentors and professors at the University of Missouri, Columbia where I did my research. Furbee and Benfer used these methods to understand expert knowledge of the people who actually did the work. For example they studied kinds of soil known to farmers  in Peru, and terms for illness used by Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico. These methods produces a map of the universe of the concepts, soil, illness, in which all of the differences in the ways the people think about things 'live'. So when I wanted to know how Americans think about care I studied people who are involved in caring for elders. I studied 5 nursing homes and asked the staff, the elders, and their family members what people who are caring for another do for them, who needs it, and who does it.

Picture a phone booth full of water like the one in the picture. Now picture the front and back of the booth. The front and back of the booth are made up of two lines or dimensions. The first dimension extends across the front of the phone booth. Our statistics show us that the care acts will vary along this dimension based upon how able the person is to care for their own lives. The person can be very able a young or middle-aged adult or they can be very dependent – an infant or a person in a coma. So across the front of the cube we can locate all of the possible degrees of ability inbetween those two extremes.  This dimension is shared by the bottom and top.

The second dimension that defines the front and back sides, surfaces or planes of the cube goes up and down.  Points along this line or dimension are more or less serious or critical.  A wound to the heart would be among the most acute or major threats to the life of the person. Dropping ones glasses would be among the least serious threats to the life of the person or organism.

This dimension is shared with the two side surfaces.

Now, picture the sides of the phone booth. The sides of the booth extend from the top to the bottom.

This side represents the need. How serious or life threatening is the need? Does the newborn need to be kept alive in an intensive care unit? Does the infant need a smile or a game of peek a boo? The range of variation of the threat to the life is mapped along the side of the cube. In health care this term is sometimes called acuity. How acute is the problem?

The third dimension is the distance from front to back and defines both the side surfaces, and top and bottom.  This dimension varies in terms of distance from self. How close is the care giver to the care receiver's home and heart. The recognition of mother, father, family kin, kith, clan and stranger is an ancient concept.  Intimacy between the care giver and care receiver is measured along this dimention.  Is the caregiver a stranger ? He might picks up the glasses of an older person who dropped them? Or is it a mother who is breast feeding ; daughter who is bathing an ailing parent, or a nurse who is caring for a patient? 
These three dimensions were created by a statistical method called multidimensional scaling.  Three dimensions were produced when we poured our data into a computer program that took all of the individual's questionaire responses and created a map of the universe of care, and we could make some predictions about how different people think about care and the values they place on it.  By using a computer program we are able to determine relationships among the responders to our questionaire and by thinking about how these responses differed from one another we were able to hypothosize that these are the three dimensions  that describe the shape the universe of care in the minds of Americans.  

Not only did multidimensional scaling give us the three dimensional map it plotted responses within the space. Thus, we could identify different kinds of care.  Some of these kinds of care have names: Pregnancy, Homemaking, Child care, Nursing care, Mothering, helping, kindness, compassion.  Others do not have names. They are so ubiquitous that they have never been named.  

This has been an exciting time for me. While this research was completed in 1991, I only recently understood how to explain it to you, the reader, who is unaccustomed to these methods of study,  in ways that are interesting, accurate, and understandable. So for the next few months I'll be posting the lessons learned from my research about care.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Today I Didn't Do It!

I am often told by men, that they resent being told that Care is primarily done by women. That is because their understanding of care is fundamentally different from women's understanding and experience. This picture and story illustrates graphically one prototypical example of women's work, or what happens when it is not done. I don't know the source for this entry but it was sent to me on face book with the comment below. Is it hilarious? What do you think?.

Just had to repost. This is hilarious!

A man came home from work and found his 3 children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn around garden, The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and no sign of the dog, walking in the door, he found ...an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, the throw rug wa...s against one wall, In the front room the TV was on loudly with the cartoon channel, the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened. He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls. As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel... She looked up at him, smiled and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked, 'What happened here today?' She again smiled and answered, 'You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world do I do all day?...
''Yes," was his incredulous reply..
She answered, 'Well, today I didn't do it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Who Cares?                                                                                                                                                   

Caring-for-Life work is the central metaphor for all care. It contains all other elements of care, including compassion, mental work and physical work. Just as water is the same whether it is in the form of a drop or an ocean, so everything done in the name of care can be found in the domestic work traditionally performed by women in the home without compensation. It can also be found in the work of the peasant farmer. It is for this reason that I use the term care to describe this work.
Domestic Workers Rights are Human Rights

Women’s domestic work, care is taken for granted. It is the background and as a result has been given little thought and much of it remains out of awareness even to the women who do it. Embedded in women’s culture, it has a way of joining all women because it is done by women everywhere.

Some Care is done by all women. It is passed on from mother to daughter, it is done differently depending up the daughters place in the family. First born daughters have more responsibility for caring for younger brothers and sisters, helping mothers, and as a result learn to assume responsibility for care. First born daughters  approach care with a greater sense of responsibility and desire for control than other daughters. When the first born is unavailable then the work falls to the second daughter. In general care work never  falls to the sons.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ode to Women Caring for Life

Three good guys and their truck by MK Sandford
Dedicated To Allan and my other gentlemen friends. We need you; we value your participation in the work of caring for life. We need you to know that the membrane of women caring for life is in dire need of healing. Help us heal the membrane upon which all human life depends.

To my
Gentle men
Do you care for life?

You say
that you do
Tell me do you…

Have in mind
Laundry or dishes?

Meals and snacks
Breakfast lunch dinner?

Do you
do three things
At once every day?

Chop wood
Break your back
Keep the fire going?

Carry water
from the well
In fify pound jugs?

Go to
the market
Buy groceries for us?

While you
wipe a tear
And nurse the baby?

You do
all this and
Pick up toys and sox?
Floors and sinks
Dishes, dust, no rest?

Do you
Change diapers
Clean up poop and pee?

You find
Time to write
While the family sleeps?

Year after
Year is a lifetime

Care is
Doing what’s
Necessary now.

You see,
here’s the point
we do this for free.

Now tell
me how you
Really care for life?

You say
Yes I do!
I care about life.

I help
when you ask
Love and respect you

I am
Bread winner
I work for us both


I say,
I need you
To build me a home.

To be
my helpmate
can’t do it alone
On earth
families thrive
when women do care work.

The earth
we surround
forming a network

a membrane
around the world make

is needed
to keep life flowing

are dying
from hunger and pain

wars that
cause women
to suffer and die

If we
to live on this earth

We must
Heal our  souls
Bodies and spirits

We must
Women connect us

To the
Heart and soul
Of our mother the earth

We are
Born through the
Body of Woman

She is
The vessel
Through which we each pass

She feeds
Every cell                               s
Growing inside her

Our flesh
Is her flesh
Our blood is her blood

She is
Our mother
She nurtures all life.

You are
Important we
Need you to hear us

We need
You to stand
By our side because

If we
as women
Stop caring for life

Life will
dry up and
our species will die.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sylvia Woods and Angela Davis, and my connection to Civil Rights.

Check out this video of my friend and mentor Sylvia Woods. Sylvia Woods, was a leader in the labor movement. I was living in Chicago going to nursing school when I met her. In 1972 she was well into her 70s. Her pepper-gray hair, piercing eyes, and warm smile inspired me and to my great honor she became a mentor to me. With amazing love and patience she taught me about racism, and why I should care about it. Most of all she taught me that really loving means being willing to hold on to each other while you fight through your differences. That year, I joined the Medical Committee for Human Rights. One of our works aside from organizing health care workers, was serving at demonstrations as the medical support team. I was part of the team that rode the bus to Raleigh, North Carolina for a demonstration in support of the Wilmington Seven. A group of Black Ministers accused of setting fire to a White Church. Really?

Angela Davis was the keynote speaker. There were about 700 Black people and 7 white medical and nursing students, but few security. Since I was the least experienced nursing student, and well known to the organizer of the demonstration, I was asked to do security instead of medical coverage. My job at the age of 30 was to provide security for Angela Davis during her speech. It was clearly explained to me that if saw anyone with a weapon, that I was to put my body between the shooter and Angela.

The moment of  Angela's  speech arrived much to soon as I stood next to Angela at the podium, my eyes fixed on the crowd looking for a weapon. Klansmen in sheets and cones lined the streets leading up to the capital. There must have been 100 or more. I don't remember being scared I think I was just numb. What I remember most was thinking about the question, "Who are you willing to die for?"  At that moment, in my youthful idealism, I decided that there were two lives I would die to protect: Angela Davis and Sylvia Woods were the only two women on the planet whose lives I valued more than my own. They were the heroines of my youth and showed me how courage looked and sounded. It wasn't until 2005 the 25th anniversary of the Greensboro Massacre when I understood the danger I was in that day in Raleigh. But that is a story for another day.

Warning: This post contains violent images.

 Woman with Children by Kate Kollwitz
Our Hearts are Breaking 
The war on women is the longest war in human history. Make no mistake about it. In the view of the war mongers, women are dangerous, and debase when wild and free, and goddess, princess, queen, mother only when tamed and possessed by a man. 

It is a war, on all things woman, gentle boys because they are not man enough, men who give care because doing women’s work is beneath them;  gay men because no man should possess another man as tho' he were woman; gay woman because they are unavailable to the men who seek to own them, the earth, because she is woman too; and the wives, mothers, and daughters of their enemies are the spoils of war.  
Human trafficking is a consequence of the war gone global.

The war rages on while we sleep, and dream that rape and pillaging are behind us.  
Wake up from your sleep! They will tell you "Don't bother voting; the government is broken."  Vote! They will tell you,  "the American dream is yours for the taking". It isn't! They will tell you "feminism is sexist; women’s rights have been one". And lost! They will tell you "ignore the atrocities, the images will damage your brain".   Do not believe them.

Remember the women who died for your rights to be called human, to own property, to vote. Remember your mothers and grandmothers who suffered and died so that you might be born to choose to have children of your own, or not.  The war on women is a war on life itself. Tell these stories to your children so that they stay awake. Tell them, that we too have gone global; together we are changing the world one heart, one vote, one life at a time. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Of Clouds and Webs

“Responsible caretaking is a central value of life.” Margaret Mead

Bustling Marketplace, Delhi © wili_hybrid
Well, here we are, women of great heart, taking up her challenge. Here we are making friends, sharing stories; cooperating is our natural way.  We work close to home and to our children. We create alliances with those we see every day. We heal wounds. We make common cause in our daily lives and learn from each other. We are all sisters in an immense learning community of women.

Each morning, we meet. We greet, face to face, on the street as we walk our infants in strollers, at the market, or the well.  And now through the miracle of webs and clouds, we cross the miles, the oceans; the vast spaces evaporate like the dew in the morning sun. We are heart to heart, playing and working side by side, I in my village in the north; you in your village in the south, or west, or east. We carry in our hands our magic boxes linking our knowing in ways we might never have imagined.

I have always known you were there but you seemed so far away. I imagined that you knew not that I cared whether you had clean water, or a chicken to lay eggs, or gruel for your children. But I do care, only I never imagined that I could let you know.
We are 3.5 billion strong and we are mending our nets, we are mending the fabric of soil beneath our feet. Can we share as women have always shared, a cup of sugar, an extra blanket, a prayer, a song across the miles? Can we, like the pulses of energy coursing through our bodies heal each other as we heal our families?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Care in six dekaaz*

Miles Joe Cocker Waits for His Oatmeal by MK Sandford.

Care is
my little Miles
waiting at my feet

for the
empty bowl
of luscious oatmeal.

I put
down the bowl.
My mind is elsewhere.

He waits.
Then sings his
Disappointment Song.

I hold
the bowl while
he licks happily.

Need known;
heart responds.
Resource found, simple.
 *a dekaaz is a form in ten syllables: two in the first line, three in the second, and five in the third. I learned this form from my friend, Rachael Bagby.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

To Care or Not to Care

Heron at our Pond photo by MK Sandford
For most of my life I have lived in households with two women. I have been the primary homemaker; my partners were the primary breadwinners – administrators and/or professors. Although it was definitely a partnership, I was homemaker, confidant, life coach; my focus was to keep things running smoothly. I didn’t realize how intense and unremitting this felt until, this past few years when my partner was disabled, and I kept working. I was teaching, writing, and caring for our hobby farm – caring for ducks, our gardens, building duck houses and fences, but I was not the cook, house cleaner and laundress, or bill payer. In spite of all that I was doing, I felt a gnawing guilt that I wasn’t contributing to the household; for the first time, my partner was responsible for doing the cleaning, laundry, cooking as she was able.
A year ago I had emergency surgery, and although I continue to teach online, I had to let go of the continuous concern for our daily living. I felt a subtle shift within myself. There are spaces in my life that were not there before. I can actually sit quietly by the pond, and think without intrusion of thoughts of work undone. The laundry fills the laundry basket by the bed; I can ignore it, knowing that it will be done. I don’t have to consider doing it. Dishes in the sink no longer bother me. I feel a lightness of being that I had never felt before. That is not to say that I don't help out when asked, but I no longer carry the constant concern for the life sustaining work that was always with me. Now I have the freedom of the privileged who know that their basic needs, their comfort, and their wants are taken of. Is this what it is like, for men? I wonder.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Turn the paradigm on its head

Langer Chickens in Langley Community Garden
I have a vision of what a caring economy looks like. Mine is a vision from the ground. It is not a vision of the whole, it is a vision from inside the millions and billion of caring dyads  in the homes, farms and villages that populate our earth and struggle to sustain life in the ocean, in our forests, plains, lakes, and mountains.

In a family in the industrialized world, a woman gets up with the children, fixes her husbands breakfast, gets the children off to school, cleans the house, mends the clothes, bakes the bread so that her husband can go to work and bring home the bacon. The focus is on the work outside the home; jobs, they say, we need more jobs. This is how we are encouraged to see it. Children are the work force for the future. Our children are our future; they will keep our country strong.
This paradigm is upside down. We can fix this by turning the paradigm right side up.
 In truth, the jobs bring in dollars that support the work that is being done at home; dollars provide, shelter, clothes, food, creativity, ingenuity, compassion that are necessary for this family to continue to live on to have children and grandchildren. Once we understand this we can create a caring economy.
The most obvious example of the depth of desire is the men from Mexico who to their peril, sneak across our border in the dark of night to work in a place that will give them enough money that they can send it home to provide for their children. It is the women who immigrate to the US so that their children can have a better life. While we become emotionally attached to the idea of saving the children, in reality, it is so that these children can grow up and have children of their own; this is how we humans have continued to be part of our natural world. But in order to continue, we must care not only for our children but for the world that is part of them and of which they are a part, to play our part in growing the human family.

This care is passed from generation to generation and when it is denied, broken human beings who are incapable of relationship begin to destroy what is before them. Whole cultures are created based upon death rather than life. It is not our external enemies that will destroy us it is the loss of life sustaining work and relationships that will be our demise.
In the current model, Rianne Eisler identified as the Dominator Model, Woman is the helpmate unto Man. Building the civilization is man’s work, and woman is there to support it in every role. Build this great nation; progress is our most important product. However, we are finally beginning to understand that the continuance of the web of life and not progress is our most important product; then we must not only change the balance of men and women in leadership, we must fundamentally change the way work is done, assigned, and compensated. Women have made inroads into the public arena but only if they learn and are willing to play the game according to the rules in place, rules for a dog eat dog competitive struggle for scarce resources.
If we are to change to a more caring economic way of interacting, then we need to understand, articulate and make known the ways women care. Towards this end I invite women and men everywhere to reflect upon and articulate how they care for a life and how they have experienced being cared for.  I look forward to reading your stories.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Maria "Lilly" Salvador. We met her on our last visit to Acoma, and she inspired us in so many ways. Only later did I learn that she is a featured artisan in Paola Gianturco's blog and book, Women who Light the Dark. Of "Lilly" Paolo writes,
This is Mother Earth.
Maria “Lilly” Salvador is owner/potter-in-residence at Lilly’s Gallery on the Acoma at home in Indian Reservation in Acoma New Mexico. Her fine work tells beautiful stories, and she will describe each of them for you in words that may bring tears to your eyes. Her card says “handmade, hand painted with natural earth materials,” and her connection to Mother Earth is powerful and infectious.  (www.Womenwholightthedark.com, 2011)
"Lilly" indeed did bring a tear to our eye as she held a clump of clay in her wisened hand and said with the utmost reverence, "This is Mother Earth, if you take care of her, she will take care of you." It was a sacred moment when all else faded as we caught a glimps of the world according to "Lilly". It is a world view that continues to grow in me as I begin to feel our forest as my home.
Each of us is gifted with an inner knowing of what is our rightful place in the grand scheme of things. Each has her own secret and no two secrets are alike. Our Mother knows what her children need to hear and how each child will receive the message. In truth we are part of her body. Every cell, every mineral, vitamin, the air we breathe,  the fire that flows through us was first in our mother.

She has bestowed upon us, and our ancestors have developed a capacity to adapt to changes in the environment. When we have a deeply felt need for change, some how the idea creeps into our knowing. That is our secret. I have learned to listen to those whispers and to act upon them.

We each have a part to play in the ominous task of caring for our abused and aging mother, Earth. This task will take the caring capacity, creativity, and ingenuity of women everywhere working in concert doing what they do best and soliciting the aide of others as needed.This is the caring work of all women of every generation alive today, it will take all of us. We can do this, we must, for the sake of our children for seven generations and beyond.

The earth is our mother and every culture has a name for her.  She is variously referred to as Mother Nature by Christians, Mother Earth by Pagans, Gaia in ancient Greece, Tuuwaqatsi by the Hopi, Pachamama in the Andes, to name just a few. We always knew that she cared for us, what we are now learning is what our dear friend Maria” Lilly” Salvador told us, we are here to care for her.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sweet Honey In The Rock - Sylvie - 1990 - Sydney

Listen to Sweet Honey sing this beautiful old folk song about care around the world. As yesterday's post showed, women and children around the world are responsible for providing water to their families. When we speak of care as women's work we refer to these universal cultural elements. "Bringing water once in a while" is one such task.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Care is Like Water

Like water, care surrounds us; care buoys us up. Care lets us float; care is the source of all life. Whether water means a single drop, or an ocean nourishing all life; care is the moment in time when we touch a life, and care is the heart of a nation caring for strangers suffering a great loss.

Mojave Woman Carrying Water on Her Head
 Life thrives on water and care. Water is both the drop and the wave; Care happens at the point when a  woman keeps her home, or a man hoes a row, and Care is the wave of a three and a half billion women keeping their homes everywhere. Both water and care are becoming scarce in many parts of the world as women and men move into urbana to work.

This work that women do, and have done from the dawn of our humanity is how we have thrived in times past but alas this story has been buried in infamy and disrespect.

Margaret Mead called for a retelling of the story on Earth Day, 41 years ago.
 What we need beyond anything else, is a frame of reference, a model of cherishing care for the earth and all human needs. … Have we, then, another model? I believe we have. It is women’s unremitting care for their families and homes.  Age after age, women have learned to conserve, to plan for the next day and the next season, to use carefully whatever they had and to keep a continual balance between giving and meeting the needs of everyone in the home. Women’s conservative tendencies were born out of the limitations of the household, a small, closed universe. They have always had to think: So much food to lay away for the winter and the distant spring, so many mouths to feed each day.
We are hungry for a new story but sadly it is the way of the world, a way as old as monotheism to look to the sky for answers. Many are still looking at the stars, looking toward the universe.  They look for inspiration deep in  dark matter,  black holes, beyond the space time continuum .
It was a wise old archeologist who once said of the temple mounds, “If you want to understand the temple mounds, don’t stand at the bottom looking up, go to the top and look down.” 
The new story, is not new; it is new to us. We are each here through the care of hundreds of mothers and communities of women who created resilient networks through any means necessary so that we could live today. We have been fed and clothed, sheltered and healed, in communities. Men care to be sure, but it is women's ways of caring that have been lost to us.

Come home to your Mother, the Earth,  she loves you unconditionally. Learn what women know: how to create resilient communities as they have done since humanity began. Women’s community is the original gift community. Women have always been here, just turn your head and see; really see.