For everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven
A caring co-worker reminded me of this passage from Ecclesiastes during the past few weeks, and I am grateful because it gave me great comfort and perspective. It seems that the passing of the “seasons” is all around me at this time, and each comes accompanied by its own unique challenges and joys.
Earlier this month, I watched my little granddaughter, Savannah, begin first grade. Six years old is a good age, I thought. She is excited to be so grown up. She has just mastered cartwheels and can do six in a row! “Grandmom, Grandmom, watch me!” Full of life, sounding out simple words in her books and wearing her brand new uniform on the first day of school, she came home very proud. “Mommy, Mommy, some of the kids could only print their first name, but I can print my first and last name!” It seems like only yesterday that I first met her, a tiny baby with big blue watchful eyes and now she can print both of her names.
At the other end of the life, I come home at night and watch my 89 year old mother, Jean, struggle to walk and keep her balance. The stroke she had last December changed her life in one swift blow from one of total independence (living in her own home, driving her car) to a life of near total dependency. She looks much younger than her years. It’s only when watching her walk that the reality of her age and debility take my breath away. I now watch the proud, tough, independent and outspoken woman who dominated my childhood struggle to get across the room. “Where is Donna, where is she?” she asks my partner if I’m out of the room for a few minutes. Unlike Savannah, Jean struggles to write both her names now. Always proud of her penmanship, she labors with her bad hand to make her signature legible. I watch her closely and think of other times.
My mother is the woman who brought me into this work. She blossomed during the 1970’s. Like many other women at that time, she fully embraced the Women’s Movement, found her true political voice, marched in demonstrations and fought for the Equal Rights Amendment. She had found a positive outlet for her 100% Irish temper.
I was living in another state at the time, reading everything I could. I was in a solitary process of becoming politicized through my experiences as a housewife and mother. I was very ready and eager to join with other women in this good work when I returned to Pennsylvania in the early 80’s. She introduced me to her friends at the Women’s Center of Montgomery County and took me to some of their early meetings. Now, I watch her struggle to walk across a room. Life at 89 is very different than life at 6.
Yes, for every time there is a season … I decided to volunteer at the Women’s Center and that decision changed my life. I was very lucky in that I found a community of women, who strived to make the world a better place, informed by the everyday experiences of our daily lives. We learned from each other and great leaders emerged from our midst. I listened closely and then pushed myself to apply those ideals through the years. In listening to women’s stories, I learned what true courage looks like every day in the lives of ordinary women and gradually became stronger myself. I learned that the voice of fear became smaller and smaller the more I took action and pushed through it.
I learned that any one day can seem never ending, but looking back life really moves very quickly. Before I knew it the younger people around me were acting surprised if I cracked a joke or danced a step or two. “What’s up with that?” I asked myself. Then I looked in the mirror and immediately understood. “Oh well,” I thought I’m not going to stop acting out when the urge hits me!” I’m at a time when I’m claiming what used to be called lack of self-control or more accurately “deportment.”
In closing, these past few years have been a time of letting go … for all those I’ve met at AWP (Board, Staff , Volunteers and Donors), I will say that the past 12 years have passed very quickly. I’m leaving a wiser woman than when I came. I’ve learned many life lessons along the way from all of you and will carry them with me. Most importantly I’ve learned that almost 66 years is also a good time in life. We have accomplished some good in this world during our time together. Take pride in what has been accomplished and be determined to push right through future challenges in all their many forms going forward … and remember it will pass more quickly than you think!
A Woman’s Place Executive Director, 2000 – 2012