I’ve learned something this month. Something so revolutionary, so completely counter-cultural that it could Change.The.World. I’ve heard it before. A million times before. But it was just these last few days that I’ve learned it by heart. And knowing by heart is really the only true knowing there is.
Let me back up.
In another lifetime I was 25 and pregnant with my first child. I was having a boy, we’d always known this. We’d decided to call him Elijah, so he’d always have a place at the table.
But then we went for our ultrasound and the tech said, no, in fact, we were having a girl. I asked if she was sure. She said she was pretty sure. I asked if she was really, really sure. She rolled her eyes and left the room.
I went home and cried. As is usually the case with me, it took a lot of tears, and a lot of time for me to figure out what I was crying about. Was I disappointed? No, just surprised. Did I think having a son would be easier than having a daughter? Are you kidding? Do you see the little boys in grocery stores? So, what then? What was it? What was with all the waterworks?
It was this:
My daughter would have to be an eighth-grade girl.
There was just no getting around it. She’d have to grow up and eventually she’d have to be 13 and the thought of watching someone I loved so much go through the incredible self-doubt, and fear and loneliness of being an adolescent girl seemed like more than I could handle.
This was 2003 and there was a new reality TV series that seemed to be the only thing my TV could play. It was called Are You Hot?
Do you remember this? I hope not.
It was a horrible competition to find “America’s Sexiest People.” The judges would put a photo of a scantily clad person – almost always a woman – up on the screen, and then set about circling flaws and dissecting contestants, body part by body part. It was horrifying, especially to a hormonal woman who’d just discovered she was pregnant with a girl. What kind of world was I bringing this little child into? What was wrong with people who came up with a show like this? What was wrong with the women who participated? Clearly, they were low on self-respect. Where was their pride?
I fretted and worried and read and tried to draw a map for my unborn daughter that would ensure she never lost her pride. But it seemed impossible. It still seems impossible.
After all, who among us has not fallen short of the glory of ourselves? Who hasn’t made bad, maybe terrible decisions, that made us wonder who we are and what we are doing? Who hasn’t fallen victim to some circumstance, some situation, that though not our own fault, still leaves us broken and bleeding and in desperate need of help? How can you have pride in moments like these?
Maybe you can’t. But what you can have is A pride. You know, that second definition…
Pride: 1.the quality or state of being proud:
b: a reasonable or justifiable self-respect
c : delight or elation arising from some act, possession, or relationship
2. A company of lions
Photo credit:amanderson2 via Flickr
Look at all those lovely ladies. I think we’ve even got a dude in there on the right.
A pride of lions usually consists of five or six females, their offspring, and a couple males. They hunt together. They go out and seek what they need to survive, they secure the necessities that will keep their group together, the requirements to raise their young. A pride protects each other. They fight off hyenas (that laughing group of naysayers) and sometimes, their own males, when they get too vicious or too greedy. A pride shelters the young in the group, even when the mother is too tired, or too wounded to do it herself.
In the savanna and in the suburbs, a pride is primarily a pack of strong, fiercely loyal women bonded together for support and self preservation. A group that provides for, and protects us even when we are wounded. Even when we lack all self-respect. Even when, especially when, we have no other pride to fall back on.
This is the lesson I’ve learned: Pride isn’t something you have to own for yourself. It isn’t a feeling you have to cultivate. It isn’t something you have to be worthy of, it’s something you have to find. And once you find it, once you locate your pride, you can’t lose it. You belong to each other. And there is mighty, mighty power in that belonging.
This week, one of my pride wrote a letter to one of the young in our group. This young lioness, only 13, has gone through some incredible challenges and changes in the last month. The group wanted her to know that she was part of a larger whole, a powerful whole.
This is what the letter said:
This has been a season of exceptional changes in your life, some you probably expected and some that probably caught you off guard and some that you may not even have noticed happening.
We’ve seen you blossom in these cold days of winter. We’ve seen you fragile and we’ve seen you strong and we see in you the extraordinary young woman you are becoming,even on the days when you feel small and scared and alone.
You are not alone.
You are one of a tribe of women, with invisible threads that reach back to your grandmothers and their grandmothers and theirs, that reach forward to your daughters and sideways to grab your friends and wrap around women you have not yet even met. We are connected to each other, even on the days when you cannot feel us with you. We are with you.
We know you’re filled with questions… we had them, too. We know there will be some days when you feel powerful and other days when you can’t feel the ground beneath you… we’ve felt that, too. We know that you’ll wonder who you are and where you belong… we’ve wondered that, too. And while we may not always be able to offer you answers, we can promise always to stand beside you as you ask your questions, to roar with you on the days when you feel powerful and hold you up on the days when you cannot find your voice.
We know where you belong.
Exactly where you are. Exactly as you are. Surrounded by love and connected by more threads than you’ll ever be able to count.
And I want to go back to that 25 year old version of myself, weeping with fear over the future of her daughter and tell her, “Relax. Sure, there are plenty of poachers in the world. There are plenty of hyenas that will laugh and try to devour your girl when she’s down. But there is also a pride, a great pride, out there waiting to be discovered. A pride that will teach her how to nurture both herself and others. A pride that will teach her how to fight, and will fight for her when she feels too weak to continue. A pride that will harbor all her self-respect and dignity, should she ever drop it, until she is strong enough to hold it in her teeth again. There is a pride she cannot lose, a pride she can’t shake free of, surrounding her now, surrounding her always.”
So, if you are afraid, if you are alone, look about you. Find your pride. If you cannot, let me know. I’ve a got a pride that is always accepting new members.