What is the unique contribution that each of us, every woman on the planet, can make? What each of us alone can do is live our individual story. There are no two stories exactly the same anywhere on our earth. Is this not amazing? Yes, there are many who have suffered through alcoholism; yet each story moves through its own unique journey. Yes, most families have suffered tragedies, but each has grieved in its own way.
Robert-Penn Warren said, “You live through that little piece of time that is yours, but that piece of time is not only your own life, it is the summing up of all the other lives that are simultaneous with yours.” We are not meant to be islands unto ourselves. We are created for community. Just as we can be part of the problem for others, we can also be part of the healing.
I remember when no one spoke of alcoholism in their family. It was always a euphemism, “Uncle Joe sure likes his wine.” “Aunt Sue sure likes her sherry.” It would have been shameful for a family to have acknowledged the true nature of this and been labeled as an “alcoholic family.” I remember when sexual abuse or incest was NEVER mentioned in a family. In fact, it was often the family member that dared to bring it up that was labeled the problem and told “never to say that again.”
The whole culture shifted when Bill Wilson burst upon the scene and started Alcoholics Anonymous. All of a sudden, people everywhere were daring to say, “My name is ——-and I am an alcoholic.” How much healing has occurred because one man dared to tell his story of “hitting bottom” and then finding redemption in a life of sobriety? People all over the country held their breath many years ago when women started coming forth on the Oprah Winfrey show (including Oprah herself) and dared to speak openly of their sexual abuse. These brave women (and men) broke open a secret, abusive system under which many had suffered but had never dared to speak about. That healing conversation continues today.
All of these people who came forth were daring to give voice to their story—give the contribution that only they could give. Many women say, “I’m just ordinary; what story could I offer?” But, each of us, if we truly inhabit our life, possesses a gift that only we can give. The poet Rilke says, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves….Live the questions now.” Perhaps you have questions as a young woman struggling with motherhood. Perhaps you have questions as a breadwinner that has lost her job to COVID. Maybe you are a successful professional asking questions about whether the corporate life is truly a fit for you. Maybe you are trying to decide whether to end your marriage. Perhaps, you are one of the “lucky” ones with a beautiful, healthy life and your question is, “How can I use my gifts to encourage others?” Truly living these questions and courageously moving into the answers may be the story that you alone can share with a friend or neighbor in their time of crisis.
I will be seventy-six years old next month! Part of my questioning has been, “What do I still have to offer?” As I have been honestly living into that question, some answers have been coming. First, is the joy of living into elderhood and discovering what unexpected gifts are emerging in this fourth quarter of life. I am a woman who has lost both a mother and a daughter in painful ways—one to a paralyzing cancer and one through taking her own life. Women often cross my path that are living the grief of “How can I go on after this?” The gift I can give them is to know that it is possible to come alive again after suffering such horrendous tragedies—that the miracle of joy can even eventually creep into their lives again.
The most valuable gift you can give to the world is sharing the story that only you have lived.