To My Silent Sisters (happy belated women’s day to the ones who save us)

“You are a woman, this will be different for you.” I have heard these words so often the past several months that they have taken on a life of their own. These words that were spoken to me over and over again were meant as a salve: you are not broken, you are grieving, and your process doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It was meant as a reminder: this path that you walk has been traveled by others, but only those who have traversed these hallowed grounds will understand what this pain can do to you. You, my love, are a woman, this will be different for you, but you will be stronger for it- my arms are open and you are welcome.

There is something powerful in the sisterhood that will surround you during your darkest days. There is something sacred in the way these women carry their scars and lead you down this path so delicately. There is something strengthening in the way we recongize one another, pay tribute to the joint experiences and embrace the pain. There are things in this world that only these women will understand, struggles that they have shared in, burdens they will help you carry.

These women will not lie to you and pretend that life will be okay. We know better than that. When I was hurting they taught me to embrace the pain, to recognize that it would forever remain a part of me, but to take comfort in knowing that it would eventually loosen it’s strangling hold and let me breathe again. These women taught me that strength is not an innate force that we are born with, it is something that we build when our back is to the wall because there is no other option.

The life of a woman is not always an easy one. Far too many of us know what it is like when you are not taken seriously, when you are judged for every action you do or do not take. We know what it feels like when your body is not viewed as your own, when your choices are stripped from you by those who will never have to live with your struggles. We know what it is like to carry life, and some of us are burdened with the pain of intimately knowing what it is to hold death. We have learned to fight the status quo that we were so often forced to follow, to create a world for our daughters that was better than our own. We have joined our hands and stood in solidarity when it truly mattered. We helped one another up when the world knocked us down.

The past few months have been difficult for me, that is no secret. And yet I have learned so much about what it means to be a woman through those who reached out and stood beside me. In my loneliest moment I still knew that I had an army of my silent sisters with me. I will forever be indebted to them, and I know that the only way to repay this is to be there for the next woman I see lost on this path.

You see, women are far too often taught to hide our pain and our frustrations. We want to be strong and resilient and we don’t realize that within our weakness is our greatest strength. We bury our struggles until we see someone else in need, and only then do we speak our truths- we use our pain to ease the hurt we see in someone else’s eyes.

In October I learned what it meant to carry a life inside of me. And in January I discovered how the loss of that life can crush your soul into dust. I had been far enough along that everyone knew. It was both a blessing and a curse when people had to be told. But an amazing thing happened in my darkest moment- the women in my life surrounded me, whether they knew me or even liked me, they stood by me and helped me pick up the few miniscule pieces I still had of my life. They protected me, and fought against anyone who tried to act as though my grief should follow a specific pattern. When I was happy they let me embrace it, when I was angry they let me scream and fight the world, and when I fell to pieces they stood sentinel to make sure none of my broken shards blew away in the wind. Many of them shared their stories- women I have known my whole life, women who were still surviving and thriving- they told me that they had walked the same path. They didn’t give me false hope, they gave me the truth. And it was everything I needed to hear. When one in four women experiences a pregnancy loss, you begin to discover that you have an entire army surrounding you.

That is what the strength of a woman truly is- it isn’t always in your face, it isn’t necessarily obvious or showy. It is in the way that she can be ripped apart by the world and still pick everything up and begin to rebuild even though everything in her body wants to stop. It is in the way that she uses her pain to ease the burden of others. It is in the way that she shows up, in the way she subtly reminds you that you are not alone. It is in the way she stands for you when you can’t find your feet, and the way she cheers for you even though you might not be on the same team. Her strength is in her heart, in the way she bravely faces a world that has let her down so many times.

There are so many facets to being a woman, and every year on this Earth I discover a new one. To my sisters, my mothers, my daughters out there- I see you, I recognise you, and with every breathe I take I honor you. Thank you for saving one another time and again. I will spend the rest of my life repaying this debt, living in the way you all taught me. We are strong, we are fierce, we can survive and thrive through anything. Happy International Women’s Day, my loves, I know I am a day late and a dollar short, but I also know that you will understand why.

This World Will Not Change Me

I am not a hero. I have never run into a burning building or set a broken bone. I have never knowingly charged into danger knowing that I might not make it home when all was said and done. No, I am not a hero. But I was raised by one, though he would never call himself that. My dad is my hero, he is my example on how to live. My dad has run into burning buildings, he has whisked people to safety, he has helped them die as peacefully as possible when there was nothing left to do, he has searched through rubble for the telltale hint of a human soul. My dad has run into danger knowing he might not make it home. He has been hurt, he has been broken, but he has never stopped getting back up and doing it all over again. Because it was the right thing to do, because it was something that he could do. When I was little, I didn’t think much of it; it was just a fact of our lives- other people’s dads went to office buildings wearing suits, my dad charged into burning houses wearing a rather different dress code. I remember special goodnight kisses before shifts, going to visit at the station houses, camping trips with his ‘work family.’ Looking back now, I see the truth hidden behind the smiles, I see the pain and the reward that being the hero can bring. There is not only glory to be found, there is so much more buried below the surface if you only take the time to look.

On April 19, 1995 evil struck in an unimaginable way with the Oklahoma City Bombing. I had just turned six, but I still remember the footage of the building, only a portion still eerily standing. When the call rang out for help, my dad answered it. He flew out with his search and rescue team to assist in whatever way he could. He was never one to stand back and watch, he always had to help.

This is my dad during the search and rescue after the Oklahoma City Bombing:

The second picture where he is sitting on a bucket was a shot taken and used in Garth Brook’s 1995 music video ‘The Change,’ which doubled as a tribute to the victims and rescuers of Oklahoma City. If you ever feel the desire to watch, you can view the original video here: Garth Brooks ‘The Change’ original music video.

When I was a little girl I was so proud of this video- that was my dad! I would pop in the VHS tape and watch it over and over, just to see him right here. Today I found the video again- having a deep yearning to hear this song once more. And when I reached the scene I knew so well, this image hit me like a truck, making it hard to breath. For the first time I saw what it really portrayed. Pain. He never talked much about what happened there, we would get some stories as we got older, but it was nothing like seeing him in that moment of raw heartache and disbelief as the world was falling apart around him. I know they were there primarily as recovery- they flew in after many of the survivors were already rescued. Their mission was to help give peace to the families who lost so much that day, by allowing them to bury those they loved. And it took its toll on all of them. Seeing the devastation of so much hate will do that- it is a side of humanity that no one is ever ready to face. For the first time I saw how much my dad sacrificed to help others.

And then I came across this- a picture he took and kept from that time.

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It’s just a simple sign. But it was powerful. It was a reminder, it was a promise- it was an embodiment of all that we are. When we have no other choice, we find out what we are made of inside, and it is usually so much more than we would have ever anticipated. Through our pain we find strength in one another, we find hope in a lost world.

“The Change”
By: Garth Brooks

One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It’s like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a stormAnd I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
Still believes
The love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Today I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, I keep coming back to the same thing, the words are burning through my veins. I wish I could do more. I wish I had more to give. I am not a firefighter, a nurse, a doctor, a police officer, a soldier- there are so many things that I am not. I am just a girl, just one solitary girl who finds her power with the written word. Some days it seems that is all that I have to give. And in a world that seems to be shattering right before my eyes- I have to ask myself if that is really enough?

Words feel so small in the face of so much pain and anger. But it is all that I have. I would like to think that I would step forward if the opportunity were thrust upon me, that in the heat of a moment I would make the selfless choice, I would do what my dad has always taught me. As the song says, “I do this so the world will know that it cannot change me.” Perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do is prove to the world that it will not make us jaded, it will not stop us from caring, it will not smother the flame of humanity we all started this life with. This world will never be able to create so much fear in my heart that I stop trying to help. If I find myself forever mired in these struggles, facing the choice of giving more of myself than I think I can bear to lose- I would still fight. The darkness of this world will never change me. I will always try live by my dad’s example. I will always try to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will always try to be a welcoming smile in a world full of bitter anger. I will always try to be a voice of reason in the screaming crowd. I will always fight- even if it means using the only power I possess- my words. I have spent enough of my life idly standing by. I will not be afraid. I will not be bitter or jaded or angry. I will not be changed.

We let fear rule us all too often, we allow the anger to twist our thoughts into venom that we thrust upon others. We turn our backs because there is so much that we can’t process yet, we think that this world will never change. Fear breeds helplessness, which in turn feeds anger. We create our own vicious cycles by giving into the temptation that is giving up. We turn our backs and wonder where all the heroes have gone, we never stop to look down and recognize ourselves for what we could be. You don’t have to change the world, you simply have to hold your ground and not let it change you.

The news is full of stories and speeches touting hate and segregation. We are afraid of one another because we refuse to open our eyes and search for the truth beyond what the reporters and politicians are telling us. We refuse to discuss the true issues. Our own ignorance will destroy us. People speak of building walls and closing borders, all the while forgetting that the majority of our disasters are home-grown. We forget that these people we are turning our backs on- they are really no different than us. It seems we forgot that age-old rule to treat others as we wish to be treated. My four year old nephew understands this concept, but many of the adults that I know have let it slip away. We have the power to change this, but we would rather blame everyone else. We listen to the fear mongering that has inundated our media- forgetting that they simply want a story they can sell. We listen to the voices that are screaming the loudest without focusing on what they actually have to say.

I refuse to give into the darkness that we have cast ourselves in. I refuse to turn away from someone who needs my help because I am afraid. If enough of us decide to be brave, we can banish any monster. I refuse to let this world change me. I will be soft, I will be kind, I will not scream, but I will not stop speaking. Because my voice is all that I have. Perhaps it is all that I need. I know that we are capable of so much more, I have seen it. Every hero must pay a price. I have seen the cost in my dad’s eyes. But I have also seen the reward. I have heard the stories, I know the price of the choices that I wish to make. That will not stop me from making them. Because I was raised to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many people try to scream that I am wrong. I will not back down, I will not break. I will keep getting up. I will not let this world change me.

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me