I was trying to withhold my bias as I recounted the morning keynote speakers at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. But like the good friend that she is, she knew I had a favorite. “Leymah Gbowee was amazing.” She took a sip of her coffee and added more cream. “Let’s put it this way, she was the only speaker to receive a standing ovation.” We walked from the coffee station and followed the crimson carpet down the long beige hallway, up the escalators, and grabbed seats in a workshop about perception- being cognizant of how others perceive us and wisely choosing when to spend energy to create the perception we want others to have of us. There’s a difference. “If I didn’t hear anyone else today, having heard Leymah would suffice.” I took my seat, bit my apple, and turned to focus on the four women on the stage in front of us.
There were 9,000 women in attendance of the one day Pennsylvania Conference for Women, six keynote speakers, and approximately 30 different concurrent sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in its entirety, but truth be told, I came for one woman- Leymah Gbowee. I came to hear her words of inspiration. Not only did she deliver words of inspiration, she did so with conviction, humility, and authenticity. I came for what I knew I needed.
Three days before seeing Leymah I woke to a text message saying nit to come to the campus where I work as there was a threat of violence. The days following that 5:30am text were ones filled with uncertainty, slowly released information, working with colleagues to evacuate campus, the scent of fear and anxiety wafting in the air, and a sensitive inbox only accepting emails about the threat to safety to my campus community. The students who were supposed to travel with my colleagues and I to the conference weren’t able to do so because we sent them home. The day before the conference I confirmed with my colleagues their remaining interest in attendance given the circumstances. My interest never wavered. My commitment to going never wavered. I knew that I needed to be surrounded by women on a mission, committed to thriving, loving their women selves. I knew I needed to hear the words of Leymah Gbowee. I knew I needed to hear Gloria Steinem and John Jacob. I knew I needed to be in a real city, see one of my good girlfriends, and grab a glass of wine and empanadas at Mixto.
Life has a way of throwing all that it’s got at us and sometimes what actually hits us is anything but awesome. Sometimes we wake up to text messages that tell you the place where you spend 40 hours a week isn’t safe. Sometimes we wake up to phone calls about someone who we loved dying. Sometimes we wake up to our partner leaving us for reasons we are still pondering, to pains so intense that seek medical attention in an effort to ease them and we find out we’ve miscarried. The mornings are followed by hours and days of anything but bliss, joy, and happiness. Yet, I find that when we make what we need in these trying times a priority we find our strength renewed, even if it is slight, the flame in our eye is present even if it still flickers. When we negate what we need, we negate our reality, and we negate us. If we want to change the reality, even the most painful ones, we’ve got to acknowledge it, ourselves, and what we need to manage it.
In the wake of uncertainty I knew I needed to be in an environment that was certain, certain to keep me grounded in who I am and focused on who I desire to become. I knew I needed to be surrounded by passion, creativity, and courage. I said no gracias to ignoring what I knew would give me the life to manage the current reality of my life.
As I was writing this I was made aware that the young man who posed a safety threat to my campus community died from a self inflicted gunshot wound. I stopped writing for the night, allowed myself to be okay with not checking “blog post” off on my to do list for the day. I checked in with friends and colleagues, called it a night, and the next morning knew I needed some quiet and Starbucks. Starbucks is one of my go to spaces in times of transition and uncertainty. It’s where I find my calm, gather my thoughts, acknowledge what I need, and how to access it.
Thanksgiving is Thursday here in the US. For some it will be a glorious glutinous day of feasting, family, and friends. For others I know it is a day with the weight of painful memories and interactions with folks with whom the relationship is strained for one reason or another. In either case my hope is that you hold fast to what you need this week. My hope is that in the 168 hours you get between this Monday and next, some of those hours are spent in spaces that give you life so you can LIVE your life well.