So imagine this - 500 expectant women (and about 6 intrepid men) sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to see women they've admired for decades and others they've never heard of. Imagine that each of those participants is a kick-ass activist herself, women who make my head spin with delight with each story I hear. Imagine a weekend of getting to know incredible women who are working hard to change the world and to heal themselves and the planet and society. They are working on climate change, water issues, gender parity, rape and abuse issues, genital mutilation. They've founded NGO's. They've written books. They've been stay-at-home moms raising their children to be gentle world changers themselves. They've traveled the world working with victims of war. They've stayed in their own towns and worked on improving local conditions. They've worked within organizations to promote change from within, or they've launched protests from the outside. Every woman I met had a story that inspired me.
Then there were the speakers! I had come to hear Eve Ensler. I've been aware of her work for the last ten years or so when I read The Vagina Monologues. Then I read some of her other work and saw a documentary about the work she did with prison inmates, teaching them writing and producing their writing in the prison with professional actors such as Glenn Close. I learned of Eve's work in the Congo with women who have been raped or have suffered other brutal devastation there. I joined her movement, 1 Billion Rising, to have women all over the world stop for a time on 2/14/13 and DANCE and express the joy of being alive. The point is also to show the world we are a force to be reckoned with, and it is time for the world to shift, for women to no longer be abused or degraded or hurt or mutilated or enslaved, but rather to be empowered and to govern and to help run the world the way women do it so well - through compromise, compassion, empathy, and conversation. Through stories.
Eve gave an impassioned talk sharing much about her own life and about the horrors she has seen as she's traveled the globe interviewing and helping women whose lives have unbearable pain in them. She talked about the joy and healing and POWER she sees in these women. I bought her book Insecure at Last: A Political Memoir and have already read half of it today. It is brilliant and compelling and horrifying and makes me want to join her in her quest to change the world. Today.
Here's a passage from the book to give you a feel for Eve's writing, the immediacy and intensity of it. This passage takes place right after she had been overseas interviewing women in Bosnia and the plane she was on almost crashed into the ocean:
Eventually I came back to earth - well, the plane landed. In fact, something crucial inside me had changed. Sure footing was gone. I had seen how easily neighbors and supposed friends could turn against their friends and neighbors [on her trip in Bosnia]. I had seen how in a split second a comfortable life could become a nightmare. I had seen how quickly fascist thugs could rise to power by manipulating the people with tactics of racism and terror.
Suddenly nothing was secure. Nothing was dependable. Nothing was what it appeared to be. My life in the U.S. seemed bizarre and irrelevant for months afterward. Most of me remained in Croatia and Pakistan with those women. The memory of their stories and faces and beings made my falsely constructed and misdirected life impossible. I was completely disoriented, unwilling and unable to participate in business as usual. The deconstruction of the notion of security threw me into the center of sadness, rage, and a torrent of other emotions. Oddly though, I was not depressed. Lost, searching, emotional, but not depressed. It had been my denial itself, not the painful things I had been denying, that had been depressing and isolating me. It had been my clinging to what I instinctively knew were lies and illusions that had reduced and imprisoned me.The suffering she experienced in her own life has given her a dose of rage and significant energy to take on the world and to try to change it. It has also given her an enormous capacity for compassion. I experienced it firsthand. I spoke with her after her talk at Omega. I wanted to have a long conversation with her and to ask her how she does what she does, but I recognized that she is a busy woman with many demands on her time so I simply told her how much her work means to me. She turned to me, looked me directly in the eyes, was completely present to me. She embraced me warmly, deeply. I told her I want to be her when I grow up, sort of tongue-in-cheek, half serious. She looked into my eyes and said, "Be YOU." Immediately. Clearly. I wish I'd said I want my work to have the sort of impact her work has. I told her what I do - paint female nudes with the desire to change how women feel about their bodies. She said, "Oh, I love female nudes! I'd love to see your work!" I said, "I have my book with me. May I give you a copy of it?" "Yes, absolutely." I hurried to get it from my things and presented it to her. Though there were 10 other people waiting to speak with her, she took the time to look at the images and to exclaim over their beauty - Models, you have been admired yet again! - and to say she'll be in touch. She embraced me again and I felt enfolded in tremendous warmth and love. I can't adequately describe how much the encounter meant to me. I hope I don't sound like a blithering fan who's awed by her idol - it isn't like that. Rather, I felt completely seen and appreciated for me, for what I have to offer the world, for who I am. Her complete attention and focus in the midst of 100's of people after giving a rousing, passionate talk was a gift I hope I will never forget. It inspires me to learn to focus so completely on people I speak with. And it helps me feel re-energized for the tasks at hand.
Yesterday I had to leave Omega. The conference was over and I couldn't postpone leaving any longer without having too few hours of daylight left for driving. Once I was on the interstate, I called Chris to tell him about my time there. I started to tell him about my conversation with Eve and began weeping, feeling the power of it. I told him about the other women and their stories and began sobbing with the beauty of it all. I pulled off the highway into a rest stop and talked for at least another hour, crying with the overwhelming emotion and fabulousness of it. I was moved by every one of the speakers. I wish I could spend my life in the company of such women whose passions are so powerful.
Elizabeth Lesser, one of the co-founders of Omega Institute, warned us at the end of the conference: "You have just had a very powerful experience. Chances are you will want to go home and change the world. But I caution you - don't put your house on the market tomorrow. Wait at least a month. Let things settle in and get clarity about what you can do. Let the energy integrate first."
Wise words. I am grateful for them, because I felt exactly that way.
Coming up - tales of other speakers. Stay tuned!
Here's a link to a transcript of the talk Eve gave at the conference in case you'd like to read it yourself. It's powerful stuff! http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/24/one-billion-rising-end-violence-women?intcmp=239