Thursday, March 8th marked International Women’s Day, 2018 and this day means so much to me. My journey to becoming a strong woman is always evolving. I feel grateful to have been inspired by the women in my family and the incredible friends, yoga students, and colleagues I am blessed to continue to meet.
As a young girl I was constantly surrounded by women – strong women. My mother is the oldest of seven children, six of whom are women (my sweet uncle) and she was very close with her sisters. Some of my fondest memories were visiting our family in Houston and, after hugging my grandmother, running straight upstairs to see Mom’s two youngest sisters, Aunt Alison “Gay” (whom I’m named after), and Aunt Catherine or “Kitty.” They were both so beautiful and free. Aunt Gay was usually in her room, which you entered through tassels hanging from the door frame, playing her guitar. Aunt Kitty was usually getting ready to hit the town, and they were both dressed in clothing that matched their personalities. It was clear they were comfortable in their own skin and celebrated their beautiful bodies, a lesson I have tried to embody throughout my life.
The sisters would quickly gather and start sharing stories of their childhood, and the thing that always struck me was how much they laughed together, deep belly, out loud, out of breath laughs. It was impossible not to laugh along with them even if you didn’t have a clue what they were discussing. My mom would often repeat what her grandmother said, “the longer you laugh, the longer you live!”
Soon, we’d head to Aunt Nancy’s house, born two years after my mom and her best friend, where the laughs would continue, and I’d get to play with my closest cousin, Tracy. Aunt Nancy was the first nature-loving tree-hugger I’d ever met, and boy what an impression our adventures left. She taught Tracy and I how to forage for sassafras root to make our own tea, encouraged us to hike in the woods, and skinny dip in their pond. Tracy rode horses bareback and taught her Arabian horse, April how to jump. I always had to ride the naughty horse, Ladybug who threw me twice, but that’s a story for another blog. In any case, both Aunt Nancy and Tracy had such a strong connection with and respect for our Mother Earth that I now so deeply honor and cherish. They set the example, and still do, to stay close to her, savor her beauty, leave less of a trace and leave more of her bounty for all to enjoy.
Tracy and I were always encouraged to embrace our God-given talent and partake in activities that let that light shine. We both loved music, and we’d spend hours in her bedroom writing our own songs and poetry, singing along to songs taught to us by our moms (and there was this one John Denver tune), and acting out plays. This was definitely one of the most creative times in my life. To this day, music and singing bring me great joy and I will continue to sing along like no one is listening.
I can’t even possibly quantify the lessons my mom taught me, though I will admit I didn’t always take her advice. And for many things I owe her an apology. She taught me how to jitterbug, to hug tightly, to share my feelings, to surround myself with friends I can trust, and said not to worry about what I’d study but to just go to college. She was the first and only of her siblings to attend a University. But more than anything, mom was the greatest example of selfless service, or seva as we call it in yoga, and was the biggest example of spirituality in my life.
Outside of attending weddings, funerals and baptisms, I honestly can’t remember ever going to church with my family, yet mom insisted we were Episcopalian. This set me on a path to search for a connection with God from a very young age. I attended church with as many friends as I could. My friend and neighbor, Rachel took me to a Nazarene church any time I wanted, and I even joined her for summer camp a couple of times. I went to Baptist service but that didn’t work out because they told me I couldn’t dance. I tried Catholic church, Evangelical church, Lutheran church, and attended Mormon church lots with my Nana. At the end of the day, just like my mom, I knew I believed in God and that God wanted us to be kind to one another, to love and respect each other, regardless of the type of church we attended.
Mom taught elementary school at a low-income school for 39 years. She spent lots of her own money on gifts and experiences for the children, and every year brought them to our house to swim, the boys and girls on separate days. She gave of herself selflessly because she believed in karma, and always told me to give because what we put out into the Universe comes back to us. And it’s amazing how many awesome little miracles my mom often found in her life. She celebrated those miracles.
My mom so valued the connections she shared with her sisters and friends. I am so grateful she set that example for me as I am doing for my daughter. For my heart is overflowing with the love I feel for my girlfriends, the appreciation I have for their friendship and for our experiences together. I feel so blessed to have met some of the most inspiring women on this planet, and I lift them up and cheer for their successes rather than envy them. Of course, I love the men in my life, and I sing their praises as well. We need both the feminine and masculine aspects of life to stay balanced. But at this moment, celebrating International Women’s Day, I’m embracing the feminine qualities in me: creativity, unconditional love, patience, speech, empathy, compassion, and nature. On this day, I lift up all the women in the world who so selflessly serve their families, schools, communities, and businesses. And on every day, I will strive to help empower women of all ages embrace who they are and love themselves fully.
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.”
Happy International Women’s Day!