I slow my pace on the streets, carefully sidestepping the dirty snow which is only just now finally melting into slush. Warmth is creeping back into the land; spring is massaging winter's tension, bidding he let go his grip on our world. I can now look up without my face cracking in the wind or snow; I can see who walks towards me without layers of parkas and toques; I can recognize our people once more, rather than squeezing more tightly into myself, guarding whatever heat my body possesses — the selfish demand of hibernation.
And with this warmth and recognition, the lethargy induced by cold's long sleep dissipates and my mind and heart are once again clear. It is International Women's Day. And I am proud.
"One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren't even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in colour, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyles as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.
Strangers, people different from us, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicioun and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being "other". Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at "those other persons" as equally loved can be begin to discover that the great variety in humanity is an expression of the immense richness of God's heart. Then the need to pre-judge people can gradually disappear" (Nouwen, Toward A Non-Judgmental Life, Bread for the Journey).
I look at my mom's hands — carefully shaping wood… bread… soil… seeds, caressing her grandsons. How I marvel at her grace.
I look at the hands of my co-workers — First Nations and Metis — and see strength, courage and determination as they teach, support, truth-tell and model the enormity of who it means to be 'woman' in indigenous culture.
I look at the hands of my friends — pastors and clergy — and the skin worn by slaps on their wrists, lines of scorn, derision and doctrine. Loving God above all else, they have held Jesus' gaze, clasped His own scarred hand and stepped into their identities.
I look at the hands of the women I see on TV — women so far away, yet so unbelievably close in my living room — and grieve at the amount of loss, destruction, displacement and oppression still forcing those hands to draw water from wells miles away… bury children far too often… hide menstrual fluid leaking through clothing… shorning hair to look like men in order to attend school. Such powerful, tear-stained, salty hands.
I look at the hands of the old women, now living in seniors' homes and palliative care units. Soft hands… warm hands… wrinkled hands… hands that raised children in times of war, that buried spouses, that rationed food and water, that went without time and again so that the young ones would thrive.
I look at the dirty hands of the artists — sculptors, painters, inky writers, poets, gardeners, singers — and feel the grit from under their fingernails. They shape our worlds, speak what is unspoken, sing what is unsung, preach what is kept silent, colour what is depressed and downtrodden. Around the world, splashes of life and meaning and purpose splat against our global canvas because these women refuse to hide their gifts.
I look at the nervous hands of women who, for some reason we may perhaps never know, were not born with breasts or or womb. Yet all the impulses and hormones and intuitive spirit coursing through their souls told them "You are Woman". Here is rejection: your own body rejects itself, and by choosing to become woman, the world rejects you.
I see age spots, scars, self-inflicted wounds, youthful skin, painted nails and torn nails; I see beautiful black, brown, pink, sun-burned, pale, freckled, healthy, and sickly skin; I see hands clasp together in need, solidarity, harmony; I see hands slap in anger, despair and rage; I see hands heal in their own whispers through the night; I see hands, large and small, engage the world even for all its rejection.
I see me.
And maybe it's my privilege talking, my hands being as white as they are; perhaps not. But they too are getting careworn and calloused; blistered and scarred. They have worked hard in the sun, held people in tears (wiped my own tears), carried my baggage around the world, and folded together deep in prayer.
I know what it means to be 'woman' and be taught I am less. I know what it means to revolt against such a thing and be burned for it. Yet in my privilege, I do not know what it's like for my hands to be hands of a different colour. Were I to have such hands for a day, would the world once again invert itself, forcing a newfound perspective to change my tiny corner of it?
For all the rejection I faced simply for being a woman, I have not been a woman in severe poverty. Were to I have such hands for a day, would my hands be rougher? Dirtier? Hardier?
Ah, Henri… prejudice still reeks of the same smell around the world. I smell it on myself, in my community, everywhere I go. Yet hands of all colours, young and old, employed and unemployed, Stay-at-Home-Moms and Working Moms, singles and mamas, rich and poor — hands from across all nations — still strain to clasp one another.
We have been told to be silent in church.
We have been told to be silent in sex.
We have been told to be silent in school.
We have been told to be silent in politics.
We have been told to be silent in the business world.
We have been told to "Be silent!".
… we use our hands.
We use our hands to dry tears… make bread… draw water… write business plans… bury our dead… walk the street… inject drugs… love our families… work our many jobs… highlight Scripture… pray… work… stumble… run… stand…
… we use our hands to lay on hands.
And where we lay our hands, our voices come to bear. We are heard. Our touches are heard. They might not be heard by millions, nor thousands, nor even hundreds. They might be heard by one, maybe two. And my two is multiplied by her two, and her two, and her two.
Our touches are heard.
And our hands become our voices, still now at the end of the day, finally blessed with sleep.
Until next time, Henri,