Sunday Morning ~ A New Village
Ndi cilaka galu fupa la m’matongwe. ~ Even the dog fails to eat the bone from the abandoned village.
~ Chewa proverb
January 17, 2021
In January four years ago a black curtain fell over many of the women I know. Our male partners, though they agreed the situation was bad, did not feel the same foreboding. The darkness clouding the future could not be described in a way that articulated our fears without making us sound hysterical. “Overreacting” was a term used more than once. At the time I thought it was only in my house, but the more I spoke with other women, I learned they faced the same fears, the same admonition––– “Stop overreacting!” But it felt like the abusive boyfriend, husband, father, brother, boss was coming home to roost, boast, and prey. The restraining orders were on hold. The fear was out there in our psyches, looming, gloating. Men who mocked our achievements, stole our money, forced bad sex, took our credit, belittled our strengths, were back and in charge, bolder than before. We thought we were rid of him. Though the restraining order was never really enforced, we’d trusted things were getting better. Our girlfriends who’d had our backs were scared too. Punishment for progress was in store. We could see it coming but couldn’t describe it.
What was it we foresaw? It was not a universal clairvoyance. It was more of a common shared experience we all knew could go very bad. One we’d fought years and years to extract ourselves from. Young girls waiting to turn sixteen to leave the house, wives waiting until they’d saved enough money to escape, mothers staying because they believed he’d kill their children. The women in the world knew all this in our deepest selves. We knew the harm inflicted, we held our friends as they struggled to escape, knowing they’d go back because it was the path of least resistance, knowing that path would extinguish their light, but it was just too hard to keep the flame lit. At some point you stop fighting the wind; you let the candle go out.
This is what we saw. Men could not understand it. They had their own demons to deny and faces to maintain. They got angry and insisted we deny our fears along with theirs. It was a time when we wanted, needed, them to hold us up, agree the future was scary, reassure us we’d get through it, let us talk, listen, listen! Listen to the stories we had about working so hard, being bone tired, fighting for fairness and dignity. We needed them to keep us safe while we slept, feed us, walk beside. Some shamed us, as if that would help quell their own anxieties. They knew they were in trouble, too. The village belonged to all of us and it was about to burn.
We looked at others whose oppression was compounded. We saw them in a light we’d not bothered to shine before. We learned from them. We saw their strengths. We saw how they kept their candle lit, shielded from wind coming at them from every side. We saw it was possible to keep the flame alive. They welcomed us, though we didn’t deserve it. We followed them. We learned to survive. They told us it would not be easy. We said we knew it wouldn’t be. We grew and learned. We shared what we could in return for their strength, their brilliant fortitude, their acceptance of such small bites of chewed progress. “Here”, they said, “eat with us.” We were sorry we hadn’t seen this before, this strength of theirs, this belief in the future on this difficult road. There was no turning around. They’d been waiting for us to learn we needed them. So we gathered what riches we still had, we sat and spread them out. We took an inventory of powers and divided them up: the wise women, the workers, the nurturers, the caretakers, the planners.
Many, many women suffered blatant abuse. Many had filed restraining orders and lived with constant threats of harm. But there were others: women betrayed by other women, family who’d cut them out, women denied a promotion, women passed for an award. It was a cellular memory of being treated as less than what we are, of a time when we only wanted to feel safe, be angry or sad and have someone make space for that, let us be, listen. It was watching a woman we admired maligned to a degree hard to imagine, and we felt it, because it had happened to us, too.
We’d argued in late night kitchens screaming, “Listen to me!” Too many of us knew what it felt like to be silenced. We lacked those perfect words, the ones we were sure would break through. We decided protecting ourselves and our kids was all we could do in the end. Press submit. We’d been there. And that January we felt it. The world of women felt it. It was having our opinions disregarded, our progress belittled, our faces mocked, our voices shouted down until either the plate or our spirit would break. We felt it. We watched a woman we admired accept a decision with superhuman dignity, a true leader. We felt robbed. Again. We knew our house would burn with our cat, our kids, our grandmother, inside.
We weren’t military strategists who could have predicted what events would unfold. It was more a collective wisdom, both comforting and terrifying when we’d hear other women felt the same. We were not crazy and we knew it. Maybe our foremothers were telling us to beware, prepare, unite. Our time for tears was short; we needed to watch for clues, stay alert, survive. We needed to wrap our children and our hearts in impenetrable cloth and hold on. We looked for steps, small but steady, and movement was slow, allowing us to take note of every clue.
As the collective abuse, the feeling of dread, the darkness, no longer needs words, the boil has burst. We find ourselves intact. Watchful. Hopeful. We wipe away this infection as it oozes over us, again. What else can we do but spread out what we’ve got: clean cloths, antiseptic, nourishment, energy, spirit, and love. We’ll heal while we rebuild our multicolored village. And the dog doesn’t mind waiting. And the candle is still lit.
Stay safe my friends. We’ve got this.
Love to all,