It all started yesterday with International Women's Day; I was thinking about the women who have come before me, both the heroes and the humble. I wondered, what on earth does my life have to do with Margaret Fuller and her 19th century intellectual powerhouse of a life?
Nothing. Nope. Not really. I certainly did not suffer from life-long migraines due to being over educated as a child, in fact my intellect was judged to be below standard for the gifted program in my working class elementary school. No tears shed there, if they'd had a spirit filled dreamers gifted class, I'd have been the queen.
We all follow paths worn by the many steps of those who traveled before we pass by. We all shape our lives after those who have come before either knowingly or not. The question is, then, who am I following? Who made this path?
The answer came today during my writing class at church. We were writing on the topic of "Brokenness". The pattern goes that we read a poem and then write a bit and then share if we want to. I'm not even sure who said what, but I began to think about my great grandmother and how the story goes. She was a teenager in Norway when her sister decided to sail for the United States. Apparently letters were coming back from an aunt that things were so wonderful and so fabulous. If Marta would join her sister Severina then Mrs Johnson, the aunt (or cousin? the story twists in my mind) would pay her fare and she could work it off over time. The story goes that the work would be in the house, in the kitchen and while Marta didn't want to go, her family and her sister, and probably if I understand my DNA correctly, her Scandinavian guilt pushed her to sail.
Of course, the work wasn't in the kitchen, it wasn't in the house. It was in the fields; the sweltering tall prairie fields of South Dakota. And there was no early release. She worked for seven years. Now we would call her an indentured servant. One who had to work off her passage for so many years and then was free. But this ancestor woman of mine was never really free. Her whole life, so the story goes, she wanted to go home. She wanted to smell the wet, green air of Norway. She wanted to climb the hills and smell the sea on every breeze.
But, like all of us, life happened. She married a nice German man; a musician. She had two daughters and then years and years later had a son. She never let her daughters into the kitchen to cook a thing and was never, so the story goes, a very warm mother. Then, on May 4th, 1951, while visiting her daughter, my grandmother, she died.
This is the path I feel beneath my feet. Here are my ancestor women who nursed their babies and rocked them to sleep. The path of the my grandmothers grandmothers who lived as best they could and gave their children the best they could manage. The thousands of dinners set on the table, and hundreds of celebrations of holidays. The cooking and cleaning and managing and making do. I feel those dear ones in my body. They worked so hard and felt such loss. We have had so much leaving and loss on this path. We still do. You and me. Here in this world, we love and live and while maybe our plowing is different now, we still are working so so hard to do the very best we can.
And yet, and yet, I am able to have a bank account and credit and a college degree and I can vote. I have legal rights to my children beyond and outside my marriage (OK, OK, my children are grown men, but go with me here) and for goodness sake I married a man outside my religion and my race! I have a different life.
My path follows the dear worn way of my fore-mothers and it goes so much further. It's almost like I have a secret jetpack that allows me to walk and walk and then when faced with a cliff I don't have to soldier on as best I can. I have a new path, but not really. I have the "leap" button on the path, maybe that's it. I have more powers.
We have learned so much. The women I am drawn to honor are the ones who lived the daily life of getting by and getting on. Some of my other women ancestors were not simple women, but troubled and complicated. Their love for their children is hard to see in the stories told. I carry those paths in my cells, too.
So today, with my writing friends in my writing class I wrote the story of how my great grandmother might have felt. How this was not what she'd planned, how she never wanted to come to the great plains and always, always, always missed home. She pined. I wrote about the ripples of that life-long misery.
Women who are not my ancestors still pine, still get stuck, still become trapped in situations which are not fair nor just. Today. All over. Even where things should be better. And, of course they should be better every where.
Let me honor Marta and her sisters and our cousins everywhere. May my feet wear a path worthy of those who may follow.
May it be so.