Today, I will be attending the memorial service for a former student, Katie Beckett, who passed away suddenly on Friday. Katie touched my life and the lives of countless others through her tenacity, honesty, and willingness to fight for what was right. Please take a look at this piece from NPR, one of many tributes to Katie posted in the past week. I’m happy the piece mentions Katie spending time at the Barnes and Noble coffee shop, as this is where I’ve visited with her in the years since she graduated. In fact, we spoke there just two weeks ago.
Later in the weekend came a facebook post from my friend Sheila. Sheila told us that her mother, Ruth, has decided to enter hospice care. I had the pleasure of becoming reacquainted with Ruth last summer, when Sheila and I reunited with Mary, another high school friend, at Ruth’s apartment. Sheila and Mary brought their guitars so we could do what we did in high school – play and sing John Denver songs. Ruth requested the first song, “Forest Lawn” – a humorous song about an imagined funeral. She said it was funnier to her now than it was thirty years ago. Later in the fall, Ruth sent me a lovely letter in which her honest and opinionated voice rang in every word. When Sheila posted that Ruth was entering hospice, she said Ruth had declared that “its time to kick the bucket”, a direct quote from a very direct lady!
Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about these two very different women this week. Different, yet similar in that they have both been known and respected for speaking truthfully what was on their minds and in their hearts. Tonight, I had coffee at the Starbuck’s Cafe inside our local Barnes and Noble store, and their voices were very present to me.
As I left the store and started my car, the John Tesh radio show, “Intelligence for Your Life” came on the radio. I was caught up in my thoughts, but suddenly keyed in on what John Tesh was saying – it was a list of “When She Says…What She Means Is…” Two items I remember from the list:“When she says, ‘Are you hungry?’, what she’s really saying is ‘I’m starving’.” “When she says, ‘We can do whatever you want tonight’, what she’s really saying is, ‘Please, let’s do what I want.’ ” (click here if you want to see other examples from a similar segment on the radio show)
I’ve heard, and disregarded, such lists before. But tonight, I have to say it pissed me off. And frankly, I think we should all be angry about this crap. Whether the message of these lists – that women don’t say what they mean or mean what they say – is true or false is secondary to the fact that it should make us angry. If true, it suggests that women are both socialized to and feel prevailed upon to lie, dissemble, prevaricate…anything but say what we really feel. If false, it suggests that there is something in our culture which wishes to belittle women’s reasoning and communication skills, to reduce our voices to a series of stock (and stale) jokes.
So I looked into my own soul, and saw that there have been times when I’ve said the opposite of what I feel. Times when I’ve said I was fine, but wasn’t. Times when I’ve told someone I’m not offended, but I am. Times when I’ve said “Sure, it’s perfectly ok by me”, when it SO wasn’t. And as I thought of these examples, I got pissed at myself. For buying into the lies I was taught (in part by drivel like the list above) about what it means to be a woman. For believing, in those moments, that I didn’t have a right to feel what I felt. That if I said what I felt, others wouldn’t love me anymore.
Women, like Ruth and Katie, whose voices have been clear and present in their lives and in our world have a lot to teach the rest of us. First and foremost, that we don’t have to be anyone other than our honest selves to be loved. So let’s honor these women by working on this whole concept of saying what we mean and meaning what we say, in the full expectation that our world can change and our relationships deepen as a result. Luckily, we have some great role models to emulate!