28 March 2012

Reflections on Change: Writing the Narrative of Who We Are Now

by Tracey L. Hurd
Executive Director

“The past, present, and future walk into a bar.  It was tense.”

This season’s theme, Change as a Constant:  Adapting, Surviving, Thriving seems linked to the above joke, which circulated widely via facebook circles last week.  Change can be difficult, in part, because it precipitates our active wrestling with our past, present, and future all at once.  It’s a price we pay for being our own keepers of time. 

Mary Catherine Bateson offered many ideas about change when she spoke to WomenExplore Lecture and Discussion Forum.  In the mix of her time with us she said that here in the United States we tell older people to “go play” or “have fun.”  She mused about how this message chafes against the messages of productivity that have guided our lives up until that point.  We are people that feel compelled to be productive, to contribute, to be at least part of the action, if not essential.  “Go play,” can feels more like “get out of the way” than an invitation for fun. It can feel like a message that says, “you are no longer useful or essential,” and Mary Catherine encouraged us to challenge that message.  Speak up and out on issues, she said.   And to listen to others-- then our words are more likely to be heard since they will then be part of the discussion.  Sarah Roche-Mahdi of CODEPINK, also implored us to speak out, particularly for peace.  She modeled the freedom that can come by standing authentically with one’s values.  “Not everyone likes us,” she said, “but we stand firmly for peace.”

And what does this mean for women?  Many of us have been caretakers, with lives marked by the lives of others.  Struggles, milestones, transitions of others have been as essential to our beings as our own.  Speaking out has been something practiced on behalf of others- to support our children or other loved ones.  For generations, women have bracketed their lives not only by their own past, present, and future visions, but also by those that they hold and keep for others.  It’s a continual dance of interdependence, adapting to changes, surviving as necessary and thriving in turn.

Mary Catherine Bateson challenges women.  She calls for women to choose authorship of their own lives.  Relationships are key, but only an individual woman can compose her own life.  The past is with us and the future is upon us, but in the moment of now, we write the narrative of who we are.  This means giving ourselves permission to summon the past scripts for how we are supposed to be, and making conscious choices to either use them or throw them out.  To the woman who says that she is so mired with an identity that is serious and informed that she wishes she could turn off NPR and do something more frivolous, Mary Catherine Bateson says, “go ahead-- make that choice.  You can choose to play.”  To the woman who wants her good ideas heard, but feels marginal and ignored, she says, “meet others where they are, listen, and then engage in conversation.  Other will be ready to listen to you then.”  Composing a life is about paying attention to the past, present and future at once.  Change is inevitable, but how one adapts, survives, and thrives can be shaped by our individual authorship.  And as Mary Catherine Bateson says, “it [composing a life] is something any woman can do.”

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