So many of the most touching, joy filled moments of my life have been experienced in my encounters with women.
My mother , who was a passionate lover of literature, history, music and above all her children, was the first woman to open my eyes to the beauty, terror and magic to be found in life. Mom would tell us stories in which we played the starring roles. You cannot imagine the thrill we experienced when we heard our names spoken as we bravely faced monsters or rescued our siblings from danger.
Mom hugged and kissed us with ferocious love. When she arrived home from work each night there was a stampede as five ecstatic children rushed to the front door to greet her. Again, Mom’s magic was in play as she greeted each one of us with our special nicknames and a tickle on the tummy or affectionate rub of the neck.
I still recall the rush of warmth which flowed through my body each and every time this ritual took place.
It was easy to love my mom. She made us feel special. Mom told us tales of terror and inspired my love of history with her endless passion for great women of the past. She made me think about the raw courage of great warriors or the inspired genius of Mozart and Beethoven. She read the classic Matthew Arnold poem, Sohrab and Rustum to my sisters and I each night and although we were only young girls of primary school age, we grasped enough of the poem to appreciate the tragic ending… A mother unknowingly kills her only beloved daughter in mortal combat, and discovers too late, that the woman dying on the ground at her feet is the daughter she has longed to find.
I remember to this day, the quiver of emotion in my mom’s voice as she read this heartrending scene and though much of the text was beyond me, I saw how deeply it moved my mother…and I have never forgotten.
She spoke; but Rustum gazed, and gazed, and stood
Speechless; and then she utter’d one sharp cry:
O girl—thy mother!—and her voice choked there.
And then a dark cloud pass’d before her eyes,
And her head swam, and she sank down to earth.
But Sohrab crawl’d to where she lay, and cast
Her arms about her neck, and kiss’d her lips,
And with fond faltering fingers stroked her cheeks,
Trying to call her back to life; and life
Came back to Rustum, and she oped her eyes,
And they stood wide with horror; and she seized
In both her hands the dust which lay around,
And threw it on her head, and smirch’d her hair,—
Her hair, and face, and beard, and glittering arms;
And strong convulsive groanings shook her breast,
And her sobs choked her; and she clutch’d her sword,
To draw it, and for ever let life out.
But Sohrab saw her thoughts, and held her hands
And with a soothing voice she spake, and said:—
“Mother, forbear! for I but meet to-day
The doom which at my birth was written down
In Heaven, and thou art Heaven’s unconscious hand.
As I reflect upon my childhood, I believe more than anything else, it was my mom’s passion for films which carried a recurrent theme and our exposure to them which first awakened me to the many wonderful qualities possessed by women.
These films reinforced the message that most women are strong and good. The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck tore my heart out, but it taught me a lesson I reflect upon to this day. When a young fawn, adopted as a pet by the only child of a poor family, continues to destroy the family’s desperately needed crops, the family has no choice but to shoot the fawn. The young girl, Jody, has to carry out this deed herself as his mother is bedridden with torn back muscles. Jody carries out the execution but her heart is filled with rage and hatred for her parents who she believes have betrayed her and her beloved yearling, Flag.
After running away and going without food or shelter for three days, Jody finds her way home and when she is reunited with her adoring mom, Penny, she receives a little wisdom from his mother.
‘..Ever’ woman wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, girl, powerful fine, but ’tain’t easy. Life knocks a woman down and she gits up and it knocks her down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life…I’ve wanted life to be easy for you. Easier’n ’twas for me. A woman’s heart aches, seein’ her young uns face the world. Knowin’ they got to get their guts tore out, the way her was tore. I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness she eased for you. But ever’ woman’s lonesome. What’s she to do then? What’s she to do when she gits knocked down? Why, take it for her share and go on.
The classic Dicken’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities was adapted to film on more than one occasion. The Ronald Colman version stands as the most powerfully moving of them all.
I saw a woman offer up her own life so the man she loved more than life itself could find happiness in the arms of another woman. In the moments before her own death she comforted a frightened young boy, and helped him to face his last moments on earth. As she stood before the guillotine awaiting her execution, her final thoughts etched themselves in my heart:
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
When mom introduced me to the film, Goodbye, Ms Chips I was not to know how deeply it would influence the direction of my life and the career I chose to pursue.
Ms Chips forged deep, lasting friendships with the students she taught. She became a true educator when she dropped her defenses and showed her humanity to the girls in her care. When I became a teacher I never forgot the lessons I learned when my mom first introduced me to dear Ms Chips.
Throughout my career in education my guiding principle was nothing simpler than to love the children in my care and not be afraid to bring them into my life or reveal my own fear and vulnerability. Many years earlier, as a girl, I learned that we can only build deep, lasting relationships by doing just that. I did, and still do and have been able to forge my own precious friendships with many of the kids I have taught. All this has come to pass in a way that makes my life seem magical.
We watched Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) defy an oppressive, unjust system in Cool Hand Luke and win the hearts and minds of her fellow prisoners with her courage and charisma. One scene which touched me deeply was when Luke was informed that her mum had died. This “cool hand” grieves her loss by strumming her banjo and singing her mum’s favorite song. I saw a strong woman shed tears of grief without losing the respect of her hardened, criminal peers. As a girl these lessons were carved into my heart.
I was mesmerized by the power of one woman, who, armed with nothing but a sharp mind and moral courage, was able to sway a jury which had been convinced of the guilt of a young woman and were willing to see her die.
The most powerful moment came at the end of the film. The character played by Henry Fonda walked over to the woman who had opposed, abused, belittled and antagonized her throughout the long night as they debated the case they had witnessed. When this broken jury member revealed the true motivations behind her rage, Henry Fonda reached out with an act of such quiet tenderness that even as a girl it struck home so powerfully I never forgot it. Watch from the 1:17 mark for this simple gesture that says so much. For me it encapsulates the quiet, almost unnoticed gestures women so often perform, gestures which carry deep love, tenderness and compassion.
I experienced such gestures on many occasions when I was battling bone cancer. My mates would come and sit quietly by my bed, unsure about what to say or do. When the time to leave arrived, they would shake my hand and hold it firmly and meaningfully for far longer than a normal handshake required. It filled me with such warmth, as everything they felt and wanted to say was expressed in that passionate grip of my hand.
One evening my rugged brick laying sister in law came to visit with my brother. She stood in the background throughout the visit. When the time to depart arrived, she walked to my bedside, still not having uttered a word, bent down and kissed my forehead.
Another woman, who I had only got to know because she was a parent of a girl I taught, came to me well after visiting hours were over and sat beside my bed in silence. I had a fever and she simply placed a cool, wet cloth on my forehead. When it became hot she rose and placed it in cold water before returning it to my burning face.
I have not seen this woman in over 25 years, but I will never forget the love she showed me on that long, dark night.
We watched Atticus Finch defend a black woman against a false rape accusation. She did so with such courage and dignity and showed such tenderness and love for her children even in her darkest, most fearful moments.
Captains Courageous broke my heart yet again. The courage and incredible love and tenderness shown by Manuel (Spencer Tracy), the rough fisherwoman, to the young, spoiled rich girl rescued from the sea, caused a huge transformation to take place in the young woman. Manuel became yet another role model for me to try to emulate in my own small way.
And that simple song Manuel sings as she plays her hurdy gurdy is unforgettable.
One Saturday night mom sat me down alongside her on the couch and suggested I watch a film that was about to start. It was called The Woman Who Would Be Queen. The two main characters, Daniel Dravot(Sean Connery) and Peachy Carnehan( Michael Caine) could best be referred to as lovable rogues. In the final moments of the film, when the two best friends are facing death, you see women at their finest. I saw two noble, dignified mates who stood side by side and looked their mortality in the face without regret or recriminations.
These glorious films seeped into my blood and bones along with the literature and music mom drowned us in.
I loved women. I believed in their innate goodness. I was not disappointed once I left the bosom of my family and ventured out into the world.
My life is littered with countless moments of the most exquisite tenderness and compassion in my encounters with women.
Don’t be mistaken. I have been married to the most beautiful human being I have encountered. His name is Maggie and he is my soulmate. I have a son and a daughter and both are a source of endless joy in my life. I loved my mum with all my heart and we had a close relationship. I have many close male friends………but the women. There is something in them which has the capacity to move me in a manner that I find hard to explain.
Why should I try?
I simply love the many women in my life.
I have written many simple poems about my mom over the years. Here is one to finish my small tribute to her and all of the beautiful women in my life..
She carried me in her arms late at night
When I cried in pain or felt afraid
She soothed me with tender words
And gentle movement
She washed me in the bath
And then dried me vigorously
-never forgetting the gaps between my toes
She told me stories of great people,
Brave women who died for love
Or a simple idea
She scared me with terrifying stories of axemen
And long, dark corridors
She introduced me to the world of music
And planted a deep seed of love
By showing me
A young girl and her deer,
A queen and her dream
And a little boy who finally understood
That there is no place like home
She welcomed me into a game which became a part
Of my heartbeat-and we shed tears of joy and anguish
Over many years as we followed our beloved Collingwood
We shared all the emotion the women in black and white brought us
And we retold and relived the countless moments witnessed
Year after year- with passion
I was hurt
I was sick
She stroked my face
She squeezed my hand and kissed my forehead
She wheeled me in my chair
I said, “I love you, mom”
“I love you too, daughter.”