Looking for a photo to accompany this post, I came across this one taken in Venice Beach years ago. Succulent. What a perfect word to describe women. So I turned to the dictionary, and sure enough: Full of juice, juicy. Rich in desirable qualities. Affording mental nourishment. Having fleshy and juicy tissues.
Trying to imagine my life without extraordinary female friendships is like imagining Earth's sky without rainbows, and only dim gray days. I've ended a friendship or two in this life, but for the most part every close girlfriend I've had since I was an infant or in kindergarten at St. Rita's Catholic School (you know who you are) remains close to my heart and we keep in touch. I'd be lost without them.
Today I turn 40 and my women friends who've turned 40 or 50 before me come to mind. How we cling in this culture to youth, and how silly that is from where I stand now, basking in a sense of boldness and truth-telling power. Older mentors glimmering with rooted splendor have opened the path before me, owning juicy, embodying full and rich, reveling in the exquisite fortune of being a female in this life, caring about their impact, sure, but not trying to be liked. Perhaps the next few decades will involve some aging pains but for now, I am enthralled with what 40 feels like.
Last night I celebrated with a circle of women friends at dinner, inviting us all to share our bold truth and how we want to be supported by the universe -- by our girlfriends, by God, by life. From the depths of seven women's fertile hearts uprose marvelous pearls of wisdom. More being who we really are, less being afraid someone will take it personally, more standing in our confident skin, less shrinking, more shining, less pretending that being a devoted full time ("stay at home") mother isn't the most glorious gift we could give to the future. We are courageous. Willing to be vulnerable. Ready to power-house-pour our adoring words onto each other when we question our worth or contributions.
I am grateful to so many women in my life. Mentors; big sisters; blood sisters; soul sisters; mother friends who text me photos of their children at the mail box finding a card from Tia Jess; toddlers and teenaged girls who've been my friends and teachers for most of their lives; my own fiercely graceful mother who stands by the bedside of pregnant, Spanish speaking, low income women with high risk births acting as their labor advocate and angel; my home birth midwife and her two assistants; midwives everywhere; Ina May Gaskin, who also celebrates her birthday today; my daughter's godmothers.
Like the ocean, a woman can host and birth life, hold rambunctious storms inside herself, move with inexplicably splendid grace, and reflect blinding light. Lately I can't help but envision a world where women stand in the fullness of our power. What stops you from standing in your power? I invite women to ask each other this, and commit to empowering each other to stand in our power. For each of us, this will look slightly different because each of us is a precious jewel. Let's stop pretending we aren't absolutely magnificent. Not arrogant, not inflexible, not right or better, just magnificent. Because every single one of us is.
To all the women who've informed my heart and mind in this life, thank you. I love you. Thank you.
Dear Dr. Hensley,
I am really looking forward to bringing Helena in on her 2nd birthday to check in with you. She is thriving physically, emotionally and mentally and it is a joy to share that with people like you who care deeply about children.
I just wanted to let you know we still choose not to vaccinate her with any of the recommended vacc'es, as we've researched and perhaps excessively discussed the risks and benefits of each disease and its corresponding vaccination, along with the complexity of related dynamics that are part of this highly charged topic, and feel in no case do the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. "The science" varies greatly and drugs are recalled, with little to no liability on the pharmaceutical companies. We remain open in our research process, and should we find a strong case in favor of a particular vaccination, combined with greater accountability on the part of the companies who develop them, we will by all means consider it.
Disease is a terrible reality, so we devotedly invest in a robust immune system that gives her the best resilience she can have in this sometimes sad, but also very beautiful world.
See you soon~
Helena's Mama Jessica
Some people scowl at the sight of public displays of affection. Two people kissing, hugging for "too long," or sitting on a park bench in an embrace. "Get a room!" they might say.
As for me, I'm a big fan. And here's why.
When I was a kid, my aunt Irma used to pinch my cheeks. Sometimes it hurt, but she meant well. What I felt through her touch was that she loved me so much it was almost irresistible to reach out and express it with touch. I like to think I inherited my own joy of physical affection from her, and I've learned through honest feedback how to perceive other people's comfort levels with it, and to dance with that.
In college, I experienced a romance where PDA was impossible to suppress. We played frisbee on the open fields on campus, and sat holding each other afterward, seated in the grass. We weren't indecent; we were just in love.
Some people were sexually abused as children. For them the experience of physical affection may be a difficult thing. And some people simply aren't as touchy. I am somewhere in between. I like hugs and kisses, I like when someone places a gentle hand on my shoulder to express that they care for me, and I also like plenty of personal space. As long as we respect these preferences, paying attention to what works and doesn't work for each other, adjusting when we receive feedback, isn't PDA is a wonderful thing? It is. Numerous studies have shown the healing effects of touch in hospital settings, for healthy newborns and cancer patients alike.
By showing our love to each other in public, verbally and physically, we grow a more loving world. In meetings, on Facebook, on the downtown sidewalk. The air chokes around us when we suppress the joy we feel for each other. And just as a child watching Sesame Street shines from the inside-out when Ernie says, "You're a good friend, Bert," adults need to let that show too.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, Love-based leader and eternal fan of Mr. 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.