Revolution from Within – Part 1

June 3, 2010 § 2 Comments

I continue to ponder the Revolution from Within, that marvelous concept first coined in a book about self esteem by the pre-eminent feminist Gloria Steinem in the early ’90s.

This is a photo of my grandmother, taken a few days after her birth, in 1916.

When I look at this picture, I see a perfect and precious baby, whose life holds infinite potential.  My just-birthed granny didn’t yet know, of course, that she had been born into a world where women didn’t have the right to vote; her mother had never cast a ballot, and wouldn’t have the right to for another four years.  My granny, like all the little girls of her generation, was born into a world of limitations, through which she would have to navigate carefully to find happiness, safety and fulfilment.  She wouldn’t have the right to an education, but would become a self-taught intellectual anyway, emboldening herself with her innate charm, wit and sharp mind.  But her duty, like the duty of almost all women of her time, would be to live alongside and support her husband and children, a job she carried out meticulously her entire adult life.  I’m sure it was hard for women of her generation to ask themselves what they wanted for their own lives, that kind of questioning lived outside the realm of the possible.  I am sure though, that many women dared to dream in their secret lives, those dreams must have been fabulous and colourful visions, most we will never get know about.

Sometimes these days, at 93 years old, my granny wonders about the point of it all.  In light of what women of her generation were told, that they would be evaluated and loved on the basis of what they gave to others, it seems only natural that she would question her right to life, in the face of the helplessness of old age.  What she probably wasn’t told was that she was precious and worthy of love just because she exists, or that she had special gifts and talents the world needs.  Here are a few of them:

As a child, I only ever saw my grandmother cry once.  I remember her standing at the kitchen counter looking out her window to the ocean and an overcast sky, quiet tears running down her soft cheeks in the unlit room. She was crying because a neighbour had used a chain saw to cut down a special tree on her property, without her permission.  I have no doubt her tears were for the beauty of the tree she loved, but also for the powerlessness she felt in her inability to defend and protect what was hers.

Growing up with my grandmother, she took great care for the animals in her life, anthropomorphizing them totally.  Her seagull “Sam” dutifully waited for his daily feeding on her porch every day of my childhood.  In fact, he’s still there, 30 years later, and my granny still feeds him.  Every seagull who visits her for a feeding is named “Sam” and she loves them each with gentle and stoic fairness.  At 93, she adores the eagles that come to nest in the spring on the fir trees surrounding her house; she loves the ocean and its inhabitants, the gentle heron who fish in the tides; and the busy hummingbirds she watches every day from the window by her bed.

This compassion, understanding and respect for animals and nature is where she has found connection to life, and something she passed down to everyone in her family.  She has seen the massive destruction of the earth, which has taken place before her eyes for 93 years.   I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t inherited some of that sense of powerlessness too (despite all my relative freedoms and education), which has led to feelings of grief and then, when the grief has become unbearable, I have had to at times carry on with my life in denial, avoiding the pain of what is happening to our planet, consoling myself that all will be well.

Today I am in particular referring to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the tears could just as easily be for any one of the environmental crises we are today faced with; and I am crying tears from a place that is both far away from me and deep inside.    Living in the world these days often means grieving the loss of perfection, beauty, and possibility that was our birthright.

I grieve for the unconsciousness of the human condition of which we are all a part, hoping and praying that one day soon power might come to those whose only desire in the world is to love and protect it.

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§ 2 Responses to Revolution from Within – Part 1

  • John Latchana says:

    Hi Mary,
    What a great piece of writing. Most of us would look at the photo and think what a pretty picture from a more innocent time. But you have managed put this picture into its historical and political context. You have also given us a great insight into your granny personality and the fears that you both share for nature and the environment.
    I have some more memories of your gran parents that I would like to share. I am about to leave for Portugal with my wife to celebrate our 39th Wedding anniversary. If you are interested I will write to you when I get back.
    John

  • Jen says:

    Beautiful writing.Beautiful Granny!
    Happy Birthday, Grace!

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