Monday, September 26, 2011

Building a Gestalt

On September 10 of this year, the first batch of students at the AF3IRM Summer School of Women’s Activism graduated, each lighting a candle in memory of a woman of significance in her life.  I have witnessed this ritual time and again, seen the tense pause as each participant dove deep into her personal memory to find that person who summed up, with her own life and fate, the meaning of a commitment to women’s liberation.  As story after story is told briefly, often in a quivering voice -- of this woman from Puerto Rico, that woman from the Philippines, of the mother from Guatemala, or another woman from yet another country -- their images seem to rise in the circle’s center, witnesses to the eon-long struggle which had involved great-grandmothers, mothers, sisters.  This is the instant of connection, when a gestalt of history is created, when each woman stands with a long line of women stretching back to the dawn of history. 

            The class had started three Saturdays before;  I used  this poem: 

            At last I am free

            At last I am a woman free!

            No more tied to the kitchen,

            Stained amid the stained pots,

            No more bound to the husband

            Who thought me less

            Than the shade he wove with his hands,

            No more anger, no more hunger,

            I sit now in the shade of my own tree

            Meditating thus, I am happy, serene.

                                    Sumagalamata, 600 BCE, India

The poem seemed so alien in the 2011 mid-Manhattan summer setting of  AF3IRM’s school.  On the other hand, it was terribly familiar, underscoring the persistence of women’s vision, of a world where she could have “the shade of my own tree,” for space safe enough for her to be, independent of her mandated social roles.  The stories from the participants of their own mothers, grandmothers and aunts underscored the continuity of this struggle for women’s rights, equality and emancipation, and made this ceremony of remembering even more soul touching. 

(This essay appears in full at the journal.)


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