This summer I remember sitting outside my neighbor’s house having coffee and waffles one morning and being totally struck by one of their visitors. She was a woman who was probably in her early- to mid-sixties visiting with her husband of roughly the same age. We’d been invited to join our neighbors and their guests for breakfast outside their cottage under a beautiful shade tree – in a pretty garden a few hundred feet from the sea. What could be nicer with a coffee in hand (ok, decaf) and someone else worrying about my children’s breakfast?
What I remember is that this visitor had an empty 1,000 yard stare. Ever seen one? Disengaged. Blank-ness. In case you haven’t seen it – my description would be someone staring off into space, an absent spirit. She didn’t care enough – or did she not have the confidence enough – to enter the conversation and take it in ways she thought relevant. I was very sad observing this. I forget which Novofemina summer reading I was on at the time. But I was really struck by her demeanor.
I wonder what choices she made that led her to be so passive? As you can imagine — the concept of sidelined women gets me pretty animated. By the way, she didn’t appear to be someone who was absent because she was drinking in the beautiful surroundings or the scintillating conversation. Imagine that compared to….
“Happy Thanksgiving!” chirped an upbeat voice of a young, twenty-something woman reaching across the threshold of her apartment. I was delivering Thanksgiving baskets for our local food pantry. It was many years ago – a sanity day for me, a personal day off from my job. Anyway…
In opening her door this woman is a silhouette against the blackness of good-sized apartment. Pitch black. Happy Thanksgiving? After she shut the door I hoped against hope that she didn’t have an electric stove but rather a gas one. Could she actually cook the turkey? Who knew she needed candles in her basket as well as a turkey — and perhaps a Coleman stove. Despite her challenging circumstances she had a wellness to her spirit that you couldn’t miss.
These contrary images rallied for me this week triggered by a conversation I had about transitions with a friend and fellow Novofemina reader/contributor. We were talking about choices. She correctly remarked that we make all sorts of choices – including those who choose to be full-time in the home. “Choices are what matters,” she said and I agreed. But I offered, “I’ve observed a group of women for whom the stay at home ‘decision’ itself is a fake.”
From my humble perspective there is a group of women for whom the easy choice is to stay at home. It seems to me that this group somehow never engaged their spirit in their work life prior to children. Therefore the prospect of returning to a marginally interesting job — with the added complexities and economics of child care — rarely makes sense. My view is that FEW would stay home IF we had the opportunity to engage our spirit in our vocation AND work with the flexibility that fit our other priorities. Would you agree? I think at least 50% of this is right. Deloitte offers flex time to all employees. A significant amount of their professionals take part, including many many men. (Sylvia Ann Hewlett – On Ramps & Off Ramps).
So why do I care about all this spirit and engagement stuff? Pre-Halloween channeling perhaps? Here it is: I think engaging our spirit is the miracle waiting to happen — for ourselves and for the greater economy. Do you remember the Massachusetts Miracle? It was a phenomena alluded to by former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race. It referenced a period of unprecedented growth in the state of Massachusetts driven largely by the technology and financial services industries.
My belief is that engaged women would be the miracle the US economy is waiting for if only we could figure out the bits related to transition. There are too many woman operating at half-power — either too exhausted from the unsustainable multi-shift work that we do; or locked out from contributing due to dated corporate structures that clash with our care-giver roles.
Perhaps Eleanor Roosevelt had it right. She boldly proffered that it was up to the women to drive the economy out of its stillness in the 1930’s. I believe it is up to the women — in this case rethinking ourselves, particularly our work selves, that will be the driver for our economy this century.
I guess there are all sorts of spirits: one that was upbeat despite total darkness in her apartment, and one that appeared sidelined at breakfast but hopefully only momentarily so. Where is your spirit these days? My spirit has been struggling a bit since Labor Day. This transition stuff is tricky. I think I’m done with the ending part (Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges). I’m in the beautiful analogy shared with us by the Boston Philharmonic’s Benjamin Zander, “It’s the silence before and after a note that gives it prominence.” (Benjamin Zander’s and Rosamund Stone Zander’s The Art of Possibility) Despite the silence I’m working on a miracle at two levels; one for me and one for women as a whole. What type of miracle are you working on?
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