It is glaringly clear we are living in extraordinary times. Yesterday four or five million people, mostly women, marched around the USA and globally to take a stand for what appears on the surface to be many different causes, yet the umbrella over it all can be named with just one word: Love.
For hours I stood in a sea of umbrellas in San Francisco, arm in arm with two other mothers. Between us we have four daughters, the oldest being six years old. Rain did nothing to slim the peaceful, passionate crowd, gathered for our daughters and sons, our men-of-quality-who-don’t-stand-for-inequality, elders, ourselves.
A multitude of feelings surged through me.
Pride... to have been born in this city that stands for human rights and dignity.
Honor... to be marching with two other mothers, for the sake of our daughters.
Relief... that I hadn’t brought my daughter and could stand, witness and participate for
five whole hours.
Serenity... that I felt no anger, no desire to insult Trump and spew more hatred into the world.
Awe... to be part of what would turn out to be the largest protest in US history, led by and for? Women.
And I also felt some uncertainty, some sense of stale unsettledness, wondering if next week would feel “same old same old” because this was just another example of the San Francisco cutting edge. Protests in the "bubble world" pockets of our culture but then back to life as usual, back to the doldrums of work and overwhelm, back to the sense of “my one voice doesn’t matter much.” It has happened many times before.
Then I woke up today and the internet had exploded with images of huge sister marches in cities all over the world — Berlin, Rome, Dublin, Oslo, Detroit, Memphis, Denver, Los Angeles — a total of 673 cities around the globe. It is estimated that almost 5 million people marched yesterday. Marches were held in 47 cities in the state of California alone.
That’s when I reminded myself that California is home to 12% of the U.S. population, it is the world’s 6th largest economy, and it is often the cutting edge. When people act like Californians are off-the-rocker, “too New Agey” or far-fetched in our idealism, I remind myself that it is just a matter of time before our best traits — because certainly, they’re not all good — spread far and wide across this country that is so thirsty for love.
California knows diversity. We’ve got super money-rich. We’ve got super money-poor. Dark brown, pale white and everywhere else on the rainbow. Every spot on the sexual preference curve. We haven’t perfected coexistence but we're not in denial about that, and we’re practicing.
Beneath our yoga mats, Hollywood gloss and hot spring relationship retreats, California knows we all need to work on emotional intelligence and communication.
But that was just my small picture, packed into the peaceful pod of 100,000 San Franciscans.
Our 47 California marches had 626 sisters.
With two of mine, I marched. Bearing perhaps the most common female names in the English language, Sarah, Jen and I (Jessica) caterpillared our way through the crowds until eventually we had to make our way back home to put our daughters to bed.
Walking two miles back to our car in the rain, we lifted our joyful thighs up and down the wet hilly sidewalks of the city, admiring architecture and talking about what struck us most about the march.
Since my writing is personal as much as it is anything, I’ll share what struck me.
Ever since I gave birth I have been angry with women at large. This anger doesn’t consume me but it’s been there, irritating, beneath my skin. It is really sad, even maddening, to see us so readily give our power away!
We are powerful and miraculous because we birth new life. What more is there to say?
Even for those who are unable to carry and birth children of their own, or those who don’t want to become mothers in this life: We all come from mothers. Women are spectacular!
(Warning: Strong language follows, including profanity. Stop reading here if you want to.)
Emotionally mature females value our worth. Emotionally mature men uphold and honor women while they stand in their own worth as men. And mature people are the ones who primarily set leadership agendas and serve in key leadership roles, thereby setting the tone for society.
So what’s the fucking problem?
Why do women still stare in the mirror for hours every week trying to look good? Your power comes from within you. Spend five minutes in the mirror telling yourself the Top 10 Bad Ass things about you today — how you treated your son with kindness even when you were exhausted, or how you took five minutes to do yoga at your desk — and move on. How many times a day do you think about whether you look good enough — pretty enough, slim enough, lean enough, curvy enough, sexy or stylish or classy enough?
We disempower ourselves at least as much as others devalue us, and I would assert far more.
Your worth is not in the goddamn mirror.
And our annual U.S. spending of over $426 billion on beauty products? I don’t even know what we spend on new clothes and shoes. Look, ladies, how about we… err… cut our beauty-product spending in half and build some new schools for our kids, or community retreat centers to refill us from the inside, for all that we hold up?
Pretending our worth is largely made up by how we look, is just one way women belittle ourselves. We. Do. So. Much. Disempowering ourselves. We give our power away in many ways, with various addictions, bad habits and distractions, and none of us is “done” with this work. We all have some “looking in the mirror” to do.
Yes, that was intense. Yes, I wear mascara two or three times a year. Yes, I fret over how I look sometimes. Yes, you are still marvelous and totally worthy of love if you wear makeup every day and even if you spend a shitload of money on creams, blush, lipstick and shoes. And so am I, even though I used to tear off magazine covers off so I could plaster my walls with supermodel photos in my adolescent years.
But why? Why put so much attention outside of yourself, when your only true power — which is Love — lies within you?
There is Prince on the radio, there are mountains to hug and trees to climb, there are letters to write. There are songs that want to be wailed with your very voice, there are beaches to dance on, if not near your house then inside your imagination, on your living room floor.
All I am saying behind my annoyance is that women are amazing, all of us, and I am so, so, so tired of us devaluing ourselves.
So for me, yesterday’s march was about relief.
As we marched in the rain, I imagined myself with my arms wrapped around all the women who’ve felt self-assured long before me.
Who, while I was sobbing over some guy in college who didn’t want to go out with me, were pissed off about how small I made myself.
Who, while I was hiding out eating a half gallon of ice cream, sighed about how empty I felt inside, when what they saw was a bright light of beauty, complete and divine.
Finally, I feel women at large waking up. Maybe it’s just because that’s what I see in the mirror: my own thank-God, at-last. Enough of us to turn the tide. Enough of us to stop tolerating domestic violence and vomit-worthy levels of commercialism in our schools and child mutilation and all the other crap we allow as a collective sisterhood.
This is in our hands, ladies. So a wounded, hateful man got elected into a noteworthy government position. He does not have power over you.
This is in our hands, ladies. It is widely known that women overall lead household spending patterns. Well guess what? When we stop buying things to fill our inner emptiness — and instead fill ourselves and our sisters up from within — there are no sick corporations left to buy our government.
Yesterday was a worldwide exhibition of women reclaiming our power. In sisterhood, we marched for the sake of life itself, under a banner of mostly love. And this movement is quite literally just beginning.
My Love... my sweet Hjalmar...
You were such a good papa to Rosco. It is a sign of his brilliance that he found you, an old gentle soul whose presence is ancient like a rock whipped coarse by the ocean.
You found him at one year old, and for 14 years he got to live by your side running free, chasing squirrels, swimming in a freshwater creek hole more beautiful than most humans ever even get to see.
When we began dating and took a road trip to San Diego, I was startled to find you spooning him during a nap in our rental van. So open to showing love for your dog. I'll never forget that sight, and I'd come to see that it was the way you were with him. You loved being with him, next to him, two gentle, patient souls who had found each other.
He was ready to move on, and in this time of grieving for our family I just want you to know how grateful I am that you shared him with me, and how proud I am that you are the father of my child. The patience I have learned from you -- true, old, wide, ancient patience -- I now see that you learned in part from Rosco. You were mirrors for each other in this way.
And he waited, to die. Fifteen years in human time, 105 in dog years. He really liked being with you, part of your family. And he stuck around, even with at least 14 years of seizures, to show Helena what Dog Love is like. I remain convinced it is Love in some ways evolved beyond what humans know.
And as you feel appreciated and seen for the spectacular man and father you are, I also ask that you fully grieve the loss of your sweet boy. He feels it, I promise you that. The grieving is part of the love.
So here is a sweet song, my favorite instrument as you know (piano) and my favorite in part because of how much it helps us humans to feel. I picked a song by a Korean composer because of how much beauty you've shared with me from the Japanese and other Asian cultures. www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Oeg32zW3E
Rosco, the dog who "smiled" when he ran. The dog who could have taught the world how to heal with physical touch, simply by his loving presence and soft, willing body.
I love you outside of words and far beyond this lifetime. It feels empty here without our Zubby around, waiting for an affectionate foot or an elbow, or hand...
As I write, I hear the sound of our old dog snoring. It's a gentle, quiet snore, not disturbing whatsoever, but tonight it stands out more than ever because I know Rosco is dying.
We're all dying, yes. And with old age, most likely we get closer to leaving our body.
Rosco is old for a dog. The lumps on his sides, which weren't found to be cancerous on his last vet visit, seem to have grown in recent weeks. He is moving much slower than he did last month. Something has shifted.
Not only am I certain he knows there is big change in the air with our family venturing to Sweden for a year beginning sometime this summer, but I am certain that he also hears me and "knows" what I'm saying when I talk with him, whether I speak out loud or not. I tell him we are going, though he already knows that. I tell him that I see he is in pain, and that if he feels ready to die, we are willing to hold him as he passes. I tell him that if he isn't ready to die quite yet, he can live with my dad and get lots of petting and treats. But Rosco knows all that. He feels it. Dogs are energetically very in tune -- in ways the majority of adult humans cannot relate to.
I tell him I am listening. I ask him to show me signs. I've held a dog as she died before, and Lusa was my soulmate. I'm willing, honored and ready to do it again. It's up to him.
If he's ready to go after being brought from an abusive home to the animal shelter as a 1-year-old puppy, and then being adopted by my husband and spending 14 good years in his care -- then I accept that.
Having seen how miserable end-of-life can be when close relatives aren't ready to let go, and someone is in pain and wants to go themselves... I want to be loving, and let go.
But how does he want to die?
I don't mean medically. I mean, if we really were to show love for him... if we really were to care deeply about how he spends his last days... if we considered it important to support our loyal, affectionate, protective, playful friend by assisting him to leave his body in a state of mind that is truly peaceful...
What would that look like?
How can we help him to pass, feeling loved?
What does dignity look like in dying?
Do we take him to the beach one day, let him run in the waves and then bring him home where a vet comes by with an end-of-life injection? And we hold his body close, petting his fur gently as his heart stops beating, telling him, "You're a good boy Rosco..." just as I've done dozens of times during his seizures?
Do we feed him raw meat and take a family walk the hour before?
Do we all sit and pet him, tell him we love him together, or should it be just his dad?
What we do not want to do is let him suffer in pain for any longer than he needs to. It's just so hard to tell sometimes with dogs, stoic as they can be with revealing their pain. We want to let him go when he is ready. Really, for us that feels like love.
Half of me writes this article to process this sad reality, myself. By stating in writing that we want to support Rosco to pass when he's ready, maybe that means we'll get a clearer message somehow.
The other half writes because I'm not afraid to talk about death, and to wonder how I'd prefer to die and to ask...
How do you want to die?
Have you thought about it? Perhaps you know how you don't want to die: in horrible pain, or in terrible fear, or all tied up with tubes in a hospital bed.
Most of us have no control over how we die; we're not going to take our own lives prematurely. But we do get to dream. To be in conversation with the great mystery of the future, and all that is unfolding. To lend light to the wanting, to give name to the joy.
When you take your last breaths, do you want:
I'd like to live another 50 years or so, and watch our daughter grow up and blow my mind with her brilliance, courage, playfulness, passion and grace. I'd like another Queensland Heeler puppy to care for its entire life. I want to live to see my husband living his art and joy for work. I want to live at least as long as my parents, so I can care for them with my whole heart, as a duty of honor. At least as long as it takes for our daughter to choose to have children, or not, so that I can play with my grandchildren...
And when I leave this body, I want:
That's what dignity in dying looks like for me. That's what dignity in dying might look like for Rosco. What does dignity in dying look like for you?
by Jessica Rios
originally published December 2016 in The Natural Parent magazine
When I was in college, I heard about hippies living together on communes. It sounded so wild, so flowery, so free. Midwives, breast milk, raw honey kind of free.
Then my college roommates came along. Our house was nowhere near as clean as my mother had kept ours. Dishes sat stinky in the sink for days. Dust piled up in every corner. Hangovers permeated the air and post-rugby sweat lingered on sofa pillow cushions. Living in a commune with a bunch of pals turned into the last thing I wanted.
Fifteen years later I gave birth to a baby girl at home. Candles were lit in every room. My patient husband and mother were there. Our midwife and her angelic assistants whispered with strength and service as the baby moved lower, down, down.
By then, I’d grown to treat my home like an altar. Home became a space where everything in it was beautiful for my eyes and soothing for my heart, where every single thing either brought me joy to look at or to use, and was well tended to. I didn’t clean once a month for six hours; tending to my space was a practice everywhere I walked. Creating beauty and order was a meditation. Creating home had become a passion — a home that felt capable of holding me in all the ways I’d grown to give and show up in this world.
I liked having my own space, where I could place a turquoise vase of white tulips on any windowsill I chose without having to democratically discuss it with an entire community of cohabitants.
Roaring like a tiger — literally, you know it, mamas — I sat on the birthing stool at the edge of my bed, a volcano about to erupt from my womb, and our daughter emerged. With pneumonia.
We spent the next 10 days and nights in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Her lungs got oxygen pumped into them to grow. I held her little body for only about an hour every day. Her father and I stared at the vitals monitor, hour after hour, our little pink skinned baby laying in her Isolette with tubes in her nose and taped to her belly. My breastmilk supply was insufficient. And five months later, my long time soul mate, a female red Queensland Heeler dog named Lusa, developed lumps near her ribs and passed away as I held her body and she took her last breath.
I was depressed.
Thirteen months later, the fog of depression lifted. But for all those months my head and heart hung low, bathed by the sorrowful waters of life’s rigor.
Did I need more aerobic exercise? Sure. More grieving, to process the trauma? Sure. Yet there was one word that kept repeating itself, an echo of wisdom from deep in my womb, over and over and over again as the months of depression carried on. One word that captured what a solution would feel like. One word that spoke of the medicine a mother like me so painfully needed in these times.
I would think, staring at my baby’s perfect face as she slept in my lap, If only I could call a friend to come and make me tea and cry with me. I would wonder, How sweet would it be if we could easily cook dinner with three other families, with no transportation involved… just as a way of life? I yearned for an easier and built-in sort of community, one that seemed so natural, so good for life, so good for mothers.
What I longed for turned out to be something many other mothers longed for too. We felt a sense of loss, as if our ancestors had something we have somehow since forgotten.
One year later in my classic entrepreneurial leadership style, I formed a group to discuss village living. Where would we form a village? What would it look like? How many families, what ages, and what were all the legalities involved? And what kinds of challenges might we face? Knowing the interpersonal dynamics would likely be the most challenging part, the issue I’d always bring to the table was how we would “be” in relationship. What kinds of agreements and other structures would we create to support our village experiment — without running in opposite directions hating each other after all was said and done?
Sure, our ancestors made it work. Men went out hunting while women cared for the children in the caves and tipis.
Yet times are different now. Fences and property lines were about as common for our ancestors as lawnmowers, especially the reality of every single home on a city block having its very own lawnmower. And tool shed. And kitchen to clean. And its very own need for specific arrangements to be made every time the residents go travelling: pet sitters, plant waterers, mail collectors. Its very own mortgage and sprinkler system and electricity bill to file and pay.
(See how heavy this is feeling? There has got to be a better way.)
Eventually, the "Village group" dissolved, but not because there’s not great longing for Village. We dissolved because life in the San Francisco Bay Area is busy, and I felt pulled to let the Village vision simmer awhile as I focused on other things.
What has come clear since then is this: Village is a healthy, fulfilling way of life that would be optimal for women, children, men and most things in between. It’s also clear that going back to how things were for the hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s isn’t quite what’s wanted for those of us yearning for Village today.
What isn’t clear is how we do it, in the modern world. Not every one of us has a Trust that enables the purchase of acreage to form a community based on Village values. And even when we do, the reality is that it’s still not easy to make it work.
Distilling the issue down to what it looks like — and what values are at play — appears to be the most helpful approach for the 1,000s and 1,000s of families who want to create a more community-oriented “Village” lifestyle.
1) Share food.
Whenever possible, invite friends over for meals. Consider an exchange twice a month with one family; you cook once and they cook once. This creates deeper bonds, makes dinnertime more fun, and spices up the routine that can dull long term relationships.
Or how about a dinner coop with eight families who each cook twice a month, and receive three meals cooked for them every other Sunday?
2) Share childcare.
When families share land, children can run out your door without needing to schedule play dates. When we don’t, trading childcare hours is an option.
We’ve never hired a babysitter — not because we think it’s wrong or bad, but — just because it seems more sensible to ask the people who adore our child to hang out with her when we can’t. Our neighbor a few doors down has become a cherished friend and gets along great with our daughter. We look for ways to share our time and love with her; she spends time with our daughter. We don’t pay her; she loves it! And we all build Village in the process. Isn’t life all about relationships, anyway?
3) Share chores and tools.
Instead of always cleaning your own house alone, why not trade with a fellow mama whose company you cherish? You bring wine to her house once a month and clean for three hours together with Fleetwood Mac blasting on the stereo. She does the same for you, only it’s Lila Downs at your casa.
You could set up a Home and Garden Coop using painted popsicle sticks to show credit for how many hours each family has pitched in to the group. Then when you need your laundry room painted Moroccan Orange, you can cash in some sticks and call in a small crew to drink Maghrebi Mint tea and paint with you.
Maybe your man is great at fixing bikes and your bestie’s man is skilled with knife sharpening. They can trade, eh? Just takes a little coordination. As long as too many beers aren’t involved, the dance should go just great.
4) Share your dreams.
As with any longing, when we get obsessed with it, things don’t go so well. But we can hold onto the dream of living Village, keeping it tucked close to our chest and seeing how life shows us it’s listening. Maybe having shared land or co-housing just isn’t in the cards for us, yet we can ask for “this or something better” as is often said by the enchanting Caroline Casey of Coyote Network News.
We can honor our dream for Village living by tending to it as if it’s a dear friend. Listening to it, talking about it, paying attention to it.
By living the values and feelings associated with Village life — and by making our lives look more like the way Village speaks to us through our child-honoring wombs — we can satisfy a deep, deep longing that cannot be denied. As with anything that makes life truly rich, the desire to live a Village life is well worth exploring.
P.S. There is nowhere I would be that's worthy of being, without the loving power and care of my very dear girlfriends. I'm dosing up with joy here, by posting a 'gallery' grid of photos taken with lady loves over the last 10 years or so.
Deepest ode, girlfriends. You are my Village!
Our featured free recording for September is a 35-minute conversation with mailman Sean Lanham called Mailman Magic and the Power of Letters. You can listen here!
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternal fan of Mr. (Fred) Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.