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February 28, 2005
Lost and found again
Jennifer Federovitch, '04c, is special projects coordinator for the center for women
Call me a pessimist, but our lives are filled with loss, from car keys to socks and from people to entire histories. I wouldn't want to count how many little or irreplaceable things we lose each year and each lifetime, but I do draw strength from our small attempts to replace them.
Perhaps too brash at my own labeling, I am optimistic in part because of the power that lies in the search for things lost--the search that ends not with what was lost, but with what can fill the void.
I was in my sophomore year at Emory when I lost my father to heart disease. I still haven't found the words to describe it, though I've tried. Mostly, it feels like I exist in a vacuum now as my life keeps growing without him to watch it, and sometimes the air is just sucked right out of me. But I've found a strength I never thought I could have because of the experience--and because of the memories I haven't lost that keep me so close to him. Last night, I made pierogies that I'd bought in the freezer section of Publix and couldn't help but think of my dad sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, the two of us watching her make them from scratch. Close enough.
Memory, I believe, is much more powerful than loss and, lucky for us all, women have always been good storytellers. As long as I can open my mouth and speak, I'll tell my children about their history--it's something we can't afford to lose, after all. Last year, I had the privilege of attending a screening of Iron Jawed Angels at the Carter Center and, as I sat in the dimly lit theater with numerous academics and feminists alike, I was shocked at how little we knew about Alice Paul and her role in the suffrage movement. When the lights came up and people began shuffling about, woman after woman got up to voice her concern and to say that she would certainly show this movie to everyone she could. Because that's all we have to do: Show it.
Keeping memories alive isn't just an exercise for personal history and benefit, it's also for a culture and a history that needs to be remembered. It's for struggles we never knew first hand, but for which we can count our blessings and praise the goddesses every day. And it isn't over; we're still making history.
The month of March isn't just about celebrating women's histories, but also their futures. After all, we can't stop now. What would our foremothers think? We have so much to celebrate, too--spiritually, artistically, academically and physically. We've all lost something without knowing it, and what better month than March to find it? What better year than the 25th anniversary year of celebrating Women's History Month?
You know that old cliché that we all become our mothers? I, for one, find some truth in that, and think of Women's History Month as a time not only to reflect on our foremothers, but on our mothers much closer to home, as well. I look like my mother, act like my mother and think like my mother (and it's exhausting!). As she and I both cope with loss, I've found much inspiration in her strength to fill in some very deep spaces. We talk on the phone every day, and I look forward to the weekly cards she sends; it's communication and narrative I'll have forever. And I'll pass it on, too.
Narrative is something we shouldn't lose because it's our best weapon to fight loss. In an age of cell phones and text messages, I wonder how much real listening is going on? I wonder what would happen if people took the time to sit, think and watch--to reflect.
At Emory, we're bombarded with opportunities for personal and intellectual growth, and we need to take up the offers. Last month, at the Center for Women's 10th annual "Women Talking with Women: Reflecting on Race, Ethnicity and Culture," I witnessed women from diverse backgrounds really communicate with each other; I watched and participated as we discussed work, family, religion, music, violence and love, and I walked away 10 times more enlightened than when I sat down. I walked away thinking that, if we could do this every day, if we could be honest and open, what kind of peace could we have?
What kind of peace could we have if women recognized their worth as strong, able, beautiful individuals? What kind of peace would there be if we listened to each other instead of to Cosmopolitan and E! News? What kind of enlightenment have we lost by tuning out everyone's history, including our own? It isn't easy to cope with what we've already lost, but we've got so much to find! We can find it in March and talk about it every day, because we owe it to ourselves and to those who came before. We can be inspired to speak, write, paint, dance and to remember.
It's really quite simple. When you've lost something or someone, where do you look? Of course, always, you look in the last place you had it. It's much easier, though, to find your car keys or a missing sock than it is to find a missing piece of yourself or a history you've lost. Kathy, my "body sculpt" instructor at the Y, talks about her mastectomy by joking, "Yes, I lost my breast. I hate to say it that way, though--it sounds so irresponsible."
I admire Kathy for joking and for the strength it takes to smile and lift eight-pounders to the rhythm of the Beatles while the rest of us poor slobs try to keep up. And while, quite often, we are responsible for the loss of our keys and socks, we can't claim responsibility for the big losses; we can only try to keep up with the beat. We can lift up our voices and our bodies to the hum of a history we haven't really lost, just misplaced in our collective memory. We can find it. We can remember it. We can keep adding our stories to it, one on top of another, until we realize our living history is more than just a month of celebration--it's countless lifetimes