Dear travelers with me,
some months ago I wrote this letter to a friend, and today she sent it back to me, thanking me for it. Day before yesterday was the Women’s March – so now I tinker with my letter, update it, and offer it to you. My own tradition is Christian – those of you who have read my books know my struggle with my tradition – here that struggle with its problems and its strengths are clearly visible:
A lot of years ago, as my daughter, Laurel, who is a theologian and author of some amazing books of theology, (Beyond Monotheism; Awake to the Moment) was washing dishes and I was drying, she said, “Oh, Mom, by the way — some young feminists are saying the gospel of John may have been written by a woman.”
I laid down the towel and without a word went into the front room, closed the door, sat down on the couch and sobbed those deep, racking sobs that come up very seldom and usually from a place within us of which we are not fully aware. It would take too many paragraphs to adequately tell what the gospel of John meant to me. Let it suffice to say that almost, if not all, of the tender stories of Jesus and women are in it, and I spent two years once teaching from it, one verse at a time, researching what history I could related to that verse in preparation for the next Sunday morning class.
Nothing like those moments with Laurel has happened since.
Until the night recently when our friend, Emily Savin sat between Peter and me on the couch in the living room and played from YouTube for us the twenty-third Psalm by Bobby McFerrin. To hear this gentle, sweet coming to the words “mother and daughter” simply broke open some place in myself I didn’t even know existed. Again, I was reduced to sobs. Only later, only in the days and the events that have wracked our nation and our world, have I come to understand the feelings that those two events brought to my awareness.
This morning I read in the New York Times a careful and caring response to the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday – but I do not agree with it. It said, in essence, that marching makes us feel good but doesn’t change a thing.
Wrong. It does change something.
I am full of hope, my sisters and brothers. I believe that Donald Trump has ripped open and made visible, as no one before him has, the ugly truth about the forever place women have lived in — less than, second to, touched where we don’t want to be touched, told as I was told in graduate school that I could not get the degree I wanted “because unfortunately you are a woman” and I didn’t even feel any anger —just soggy disappointment because that was the way the world was.
“Mother” and “daughter,” Bobby McFerrin sings. And I remember Jesus kneeling beside the woman about to be stoned, writing in the sand with his finger.
Let us write, my sisters. Let us speak and write and sing the truth of our lives, and let us have hope because so many good men marched with their women, so many good men are seeing for the first time, understanding for the first time, how it might feel as it felt when I was twelve years old, riding by myself on a Greyhound bus on an inside seat, when all at once a finger began moving up and down my leg. It was 1946. I never until now told anyone about that moment. Why should I? That’s just the way the world was for women. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever.
The Women’s March does change something. It has changed something in this one old woman’s heart and mind. I will write. I will write to my senators and representatives as I never have before. And I will continue to write the truth of my own life. Poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
Here is Bobby McFerrin, singing a deep truth of our lives: