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Make This History: “Do You Have Children?”

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Happy Women’s History Month.

Let me start by saying I’m extremely irritable right now, having just lost a dear friend to COVID a few days ago. I’m edging into the angry part of the grief cycle, which I know will come and go for a time. Meanwhile, people in Idaho are staging photo ops of their children burning life-saving masks. Innocent people are dying and others are acting like drunken teenagers careening down the road of life threatening all the rest of us. So there’s stuff to be truly angry about. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I wouldn’t say I’m angry about today’s topic, just irritated. In recent days, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the (virtual) presence of a lot of lovely people I don’t know, praying and grieving and helping the family. As irrelevant as it seems to me in those situations, that perennial question still popped up: “Do you have children?”

As always, there was the awkward silence. Then I answered lightly, “No, I’m fancy free.” But then I added, “Why do you ask?” All of a sudden, the awkwardness was on her instead of me. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I just thought . . ., “ and trailed off. 

No, you did not think. That’s my point: please think before you ask a stranger that question. Some would say it’s not your business, but I won’t, because that sounds mean, and I know the question is not meant to hurt and is probably just your way of trying to connect, to make conversation, to know me. 

But you don’t know me, you don’t know my journey, you don’t know that I haven’t lost a child, that I didn’t try for decades to have a child, that I did not endure repeated miscarriages, that I did not pine my whole life for a husband who never came along. 

None of those things are true for me, blessedly. Your question is just a pinprick. But I know women in each of those categories and your mindless question is like a knife in the heart for many of them. Surely, you also know people for whom one or more of those things are true. So — please stop. If a woman has kids. you’re going to hear about them soon enough if she wants to talk about them. 

I’m not trying to be mean. Really. (If you want to see my mean face, start telling me why you choose not to wear a mask.) It’s just a matter of thinking about what you say. Nearly half of all women of childbearing age do not have children. In women beyond childbearing years like me, 1 in 7 don’t have kids. There are all different reasons for this, but none of them count as “small talk.” 

A Woman’s Peace

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“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

A Haunting Challenge

These words come from Etty Hillesum, who died in a Nazi concentration camp when she was 29 years old. She had “an old soul,” as they say — wisdom beyond her years. We will never know what peace she might have brought to the world had she not been murdered. Yet she offered a haunting challenge as she pondered the annihilation of her people:

“I wish I could live for a long time so that one day I may know how to explain it, and if I am not granted that wish, well, then somebody else will perhaps do it, carry on from where my life has been cut short…”

Photo: Etty Hillesum


Etty Hillesum

Wow – “then somebody else will perhaps do it.” W ell, I can’t explain the Holocaust for Etty, but I can try to do my “one moral duty” by reclaiming peace within my soul and hoping some of it will transfer to the world. I do believe this is our moral duty. I’ve heard it said that “hurt people will hurt people,” and I’ve certainly found that to be true. We must each take responsibility for healing our own hurting hearts.

Wounds we received in childhood may still be causing emotional reactions today, and unless we become aware of that and seek healing and peace, we’ll just be dumping our crap all over everyone else.

For the rest of our lives.

Women in Peace

I am a member of Bloggers for Peace, and as such, I have committed to post every month on the topic of peace. March being Women’s History Month, I thought I would take a brief look at women’s roles in the movement for world peace. As it turns out, it isn’t possible to do that briefly. I’d have to write a tome.

Instead of the tome (I can hear you all now, “tome, tome, tome!”), I’m sharing Etty’s story with you.

Etty’s efforts to nurture peace in her heart resulted in a profound attitude of love, hope, and gratitude, which it’s hard to imagine could survive in a concentration camp.

“Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on earth, my eyes raised towards heaven, tears run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.”

“I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts.”

I hope you’ll read more about Etty at Gratefulness.org

Nurturing Change

How are we doing at realizing Etty Hillesum’s dream that “a new and kinder day” was coming?

According to the Eisenhower Research Project, between 152,280 – 192,550 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting since 9/11. More than seven million people have become refugees. The numbers speak for themselves.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope. War seems to be an inevitable part of the human experience, and peace is certainly not inevitable in this world. It’s something we must pray for, wait for, work for. We must intentionally nurture it from within, growing what the Bible calls the “fruits of the spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Women know a little about waiting and praying and growing things inside themselves.

I am a firm believer in the power of inner peace to transform the world. It has to start with the individual. Perhaps I’m naive, but what’s the point of living if we can’t be at peace with ourselves and make a positive difference in the world?

For me, inner peace also includes action. For instance, if I ate meat, I know my heart would not be at peace. I would see that as waging war on animals. (I’m not judging you, I’m talking about my own heart.)

I volunteer for projects that help heal our planet, I participate in peace marches, and I help feed homeless people. That’s activism, yes, it adds to the goodness in the world. But the action itself is also good for the peace of my soul.

I like how poet and human rights activist Staceyann Chin puts it: “Every day I get better at knowing that it is not a choice to be an activist; rather, it is the only way to hold on to the better parts of my human self. It is the only way I can live and laugh without guilt.”

You can check out the stories of nine women who made peace activism a way of life and won the Nobel Peace Prize as a result, including Baroness Bertha von Suttner, without whom there might not even be a Nobel Peace Prize.

A Reason to Hope

One last story of hope for peace. My friend Nate Haken is active with Partners for Peace, a  network of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting peace in the Niger Delta. Part of what they do is identify and celebrate local peace-building initiatives, like the one called “Mothers for Peace” in Rivers State.This group of wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters takes direct action to intervene when conflicts break out in their communities. Carrying palm fronds, they march right into the conflict, waving their branches and singing songs of peace. Below is a short video about these women.

As they wave their palm fronds in the face of war, these women continue to spread Etty’s brave and peaceful spirit in the world.

Related Links:

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/kozo-cheri-asks-that-you/

http://bloggers4peace.wordpress.com/about/

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