The women who came before

My mother grew up in the hills of rural Tennessee. Opportunities were limited, especially for women. You married. Had children. Or found whatever work you could, which wasn’t much.

Not just in Tennessee but almost everywhere women had few career options in the 1940s, other than becoming a teacher or nurse. Both were honorable choices then and still are today. But forget any other dreams my mom might have had at a time relegating women to certain areas of life.

My mother was smart and a voracious reader. Talented. And beautiful. She looked like a movie star or model with her slim figure, flowing blonde hair and sparkling blue-green eyes.

She wanted to be an actress and had the leads in all the high school plays. But her parents — good country people — protested. She also was a gifted artist and dreamed of a career in commercial art.

After graduating from high school, she moved to Nashville where she worked as an operator at the telephone company. She learned the maze of plug-in wires and connecting calls from coast to coast.

motherandme-183x300Meanwhile, she was writing to my father and after a three-year courtship through the mail, they fell in love. https://mezuniga.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/a-love-story/ They married and mom moved to South Texas. They began a family. I was the oldest and then more children came. One after another.

The dream of acting had disappeared but she hadn’t given up on becoming a commercial artist. And so, in the midst of a high chair and a playpen, she set up her drawing table in the living room, with trays of oil paints, pastel chalks and brushes.

As a three-year-old I would sit on the floor with my piece of loose leaf paper and crayons, in awe of her, trying to imitate her drawings.

Then it all stopped. Family was demanding more of her time. And as I grew older she would urge me in spoken words and unspoken messages, “Go do what you want in the world. Do it when you can. Use your gifts.”

So I did. In the early 1970s, I started a career in journalism when few women were in that field. At my first newspaper job I was one of three women in the newsroom. The section I worked for was called “Women’s News” and we wrote about engagements, weddings and women who poured tea at social galas, their names in bold type.

At that time, the newspaper ran a daily stock photo of a woman on page six in a scanty bathing suit or bikini. We in Women’s News demanded a stop to the blatant sexism. We weren’t heard. The editor barked: “Those photos sell newspapers! That’s what matters.”

The editor also told us one day — to our faces, “You’ll never write as well as the men in the newsroom.” Why? Because we were women.

Determined to prove him wrong I put my head down into the typewriter and began to write about more worthy topics other than the color of the bridesmaids’ gowns and who poured tea. My first feature article was about a woman hiking across the country alone, promoting peace during the Vietnam War.

women standing togetherAnd I began to admire women who were making changes in society — Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer.

Feminism was in full blossom and I found myself in a strange place in my early 20s. One foot was firmly planted in the role model I had seen in my mother, the traditional homemaker; and the other, trying to find my way in this brave new world for women.

But mom didn’t hesitate. She saw doors opening for our gender and when she was in her 50s and her children had grown, she decided to take back her life. She went to college, managing one or two classes at a time, until 10 years later she had earned her bachelor’s degree.

At the age of 62 she graduated with a Master’s degree in English literature and all her children were at the ceremony, cheering her on, her face beaming on that summer afternoon.

Today, I am older than my mother was then and I look back on her journey as a woman — and mine.

The truth is, I am who I am today because of my mother. She invited me to use my gifts — to choose a new path and find a career I loved, an opportunity she had not been given.

But I could not have done that without her urging, or without the women who came before, again and again, demanding their equal place at life’s table. For the vote. For equal pay. For a voice. It was never easy. They struggled and sacrificed to make inroads for us all.

We stand on their shoulders. We thank them. We bow to them. The Suffragettes. Susan B. Anthony. Eleanor Roosevelt. Rosa Parks. Our great-grandmothers and mothers.

Never forget this, young women of today. You hold a precious gift from the many trail-blazing women  — and the men who supported them — who sacrificed to give you more choices than you ever would have had in the past.

So go forward. Break more glass ceilings. Take us to the next exciting step in our journey.

When you speak up for gender equality, when you fulfill your potential — not only do you benefit, but everyone benefits. The world wins.

It’s up to you now. Go get ’em.

*****

(Blogger’s Note: It’s been a long journey from that “Women’s News” section and writing about weddings to one of the proudest moments in my career — winning the Jane Cunningham Croly Award for Excellence in Journalism Covering Issues of Concern to Women in 2009.

I won this honor for articles I wrote when employed as the staff writer for Soroptimist International of the Americas, an organization working in 19 countries to improve the lives of women and girls.  I was in distinguished company with past winners including Glamour Magazine, The Dallas Morning News and The Wall Street Journal.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A short and loving message

I always pray before I write my blog posts. What would you have me write, God-Higher-Power? After all, I’m only the messenger.

In these times of strife, fear and turmoil, I got this from the Divine:

heart you are hereI love each of you beyond measure. You have no idea. I mean, really. No idea.

You are precious to me.

I’m asking you to do the same. Love yourselves. Love others.

If you have difficulty doing that, could you at least be kind to yourselves and others?

So there it is, folks. The shortest blog post in my writing history.

But perhaps short is better. Easier to remember. And dictated from on high.

Now go forth. You know what to do.

 

 

 

Angel in flight

Here is one of many stories — slightly revised from memory — that my father used to tell. Sometimes we are sent a messenger, unexpected and not from this realm. May you find something here that heals, encourages or helps.

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My father had been flying home from one of his many inspirational and spiritual lectures.

He had traveled across the country, speaking to others about the greatness of God and how they, too, as children of God, were born for greatness. Why settle for less?

Because dad was always so open to the Spirit working in him, miracles often happened. People were healed of past emotional hurts and sometimes, physical pain.

darkness-to-light1As dad settled into his airplane seat, he was exhausted. Perhaps it was that fatigue that made him remember some of his own past hurts. As a first-generation Mexican American, he had worked hard to bring himself up from poverty and to create a successful career in broadcast engineering.

Still, while working at a TV station in South Texas, he remembered a fellow worker, an Anglo, who despised him.

After work one day, with the ruse of talking to him about a problem, he pulled my father into an alley behind the building and started beating my father, breaking some of his ribs.

“This is what we do to filthy Spics,” he screamed at my father.

It took some time, but dad forgave him from his heart. In fact, many of his talks were about forgiveness and how it was essential to our own happiness and well-being to forgive others.

Still, as dad opened that mental door to how he had been treated, other slights began pouring into his thoughts. He had just been lecturing and speaking to hundreds about letting go of the past and giving it to God for healing and there he was, feeling sorry for himself and all he had suffered as a Mexican.

As he sat waiting for the plane to take off, a woman slid in the seat beside him. She was quiet at first, but dad, always interested in hearing people’s stories, began talking to her, asking her questions about her life.

She was an older, attractive woman with a worn face and gentle smile. She told him she was Jewish.

flight of an angelThen she paused, as if debating whether to share something personal, and finally said, “I was in a concentration camp during the war. I survived. My family did not.”

She went on to tell him about the horrific conditions, about the emotional and physical pain — of the relentless hunger and cold.

“But I learned to forgive,” she said. “It saved me. And I prayed — to the one God who loves us all. Prayer is more powerful than people understand.”

They finished their conversation and dad, pondering her words, fell asleep. With the plane mid-flight, he roused to find the woman gone. Perhaps she had gone to the restroom, he reasoned.

When the captain announced the plane was landing, and the woman still had not returned to her seat, dad became concerned.

As they deplaned, he inquired about the woman. The flight attendant said she knew of no such woman — that no one of that description had been on the plane, nor had anyone been seated next to him.

Surely the attendant was mistaken, he thought. He had not made up this woman or the conversation. He insisted she check the restrooms but no one was there. He even waited by the gate — as the last members of the flight crew straggled past him — to see if she still might appear, but she never emerged.

Years later, dad told me he felt she was an angel, someone sent to remind him that no matter how much we suffer, we need to be thankful — for the precious gift of life.

healing energy handsThat we can respond to any given situation with love or hate. That we can grow from pains and hurts or we can choose self-pity. That we can rise above our individual and global hurts and with the grace of God, learn to love as God loves.

Did dad really see an angel?

It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the message, one we need to hear again and again, especially in today’s troubled world.

Forgive. Pray. Love.

Yes, most of all — love.

Surrender, Supergirl

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

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When I was a little girl I wanted to be Lois Lane or Supergirl. They were my role models — smart, sassy, fierce and they got the job done. I followed and devoured their escapades in the comic books.

Yep. I wanted to be a first-class reporter or have super powers to save the world. Maybe both.

supergirlTHIS lois lane

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That was the life my childlike self had planned. Then, as I grew older, other dreams and plans took shape. Best-selling author? Inspirational speaker? World traveler? Rich and famous? Well, not so much fame. Intimidating. But money would be nice. I could help so many others and myself.

But the thing is, life doesn’t always turn out like we planned.

And what I’m learning in my ripe old age is an ongoing lesson for me — one I write about often — that I’m not in control.

That I have to let go and let God.

Now that’s nothing new. Everyone from the Twelve Steps Program to Tosha Silver http://ToshaSilver.com to St. Ignatius in his Suscipe prayer http://bit.ly/29uclHi have written and spoken about this.

But doing it? The actual act of really letting go and handing it all over to a Higher Power? That’s a whole other thing. It seems I surrender to acceptance of the life I have now and then take it back faster than you can say The Daily Planet or Kryptonite.

When you come right down to it, letting go is a process. And that process is humbling. Mucho, mucho humbling.

humilityLife hits us with the unexpected — a divorce, a death, a health challenge and there we are, detouring off what we thought was our chosen course. The life we planned or hoped for feels like a ship disappearing onto the distant horizon.

John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Indeed.

But here’s the other truth I’m learning. Wherever I am — outside of that so-called planned life — is really OK. This is not a rationalization but a deep truth that if I surrender to the Divine, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, no matter how many detours, disasters or wrong choices I’ve made.

An old proverb says that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” That means that whatever happens in life — no matter how we judge or perceive it as horrible — the Divine is turning it to our good. Always.

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyhThat all sounds so good and wise doesn’t it? I talk a good game, but if I don’t practice what I preach, my words mean little.

So, as I sit here writing this, I’m struggling right now with surrendering to God a difficult, personal issue in my life. I really don’t have any answers.

No, I don’t have it figured out — any of it — and that’s frightening. That’s the “control” part of me speaking, the part that is clinging to my plan and agenda. But day by day, I pray that I am learning to be at peace with whatever is happening. And even if not, I’m growing.

Whether I’m struggling or accepting my life — if I’m open to it — I’m still growing.

In the end, I did become a reporter at a newspaper. I wasn’t Lois Lane and Superman was nowhere to be found to rescue me. I discovered I had to save myself first. Only then could I be of genuine service to others. I’m still learning that one.

As to Supergirl. Here’s what I’ve decided, about me and each and everyone of us. We have more super powers than she’ll ever have.

We may not be women and men of steel, but we have strength of heart — a courage and bravery that rises up in love on the darkest of days.

We pick ourselves up and fly to a new level of wisdom when life slams us sideways.

We look with x-ray vision into the hearts of others and offer compassion.

And in many ways, small and big, we are rescuing our own corner of planet Earth.

So this life I have now?

No. It’s not the one I planned at all. I always thought I’d write a best-selling book, travel the world and inspire others to find the Divine within. That was my plan. But instead, I am caring for dad who had a stroke, in early retirement living on a meager budget, writing this blog, still part of the great unpublished with my novels collecting dust, and wondering what’s next.

I don’t have a clue.

Many times I still question, kick and scream, wanting it “my way or the highway.”

Other days, I let go and trust that God is guiding me, leading me, even though I don’t know what the Divine agenda is. But I’m listening. Yes, dear Lord, in all humility, I’m listening.

So I take a deep breath. I trust. I relax. supergirl S on chest

I surrender. That’s what the big “S” on my chest stands for, in case you were wondering. I need to be reminded. A lot.