Free as an Empty Room – The Great Canadian Woman

September 14, 2020

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Shauna Rae

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Free as an Empty Room

Women are exquisite in all forms. White, brown, black, big, small, curvy, narrow, hetero, gay, trans, bi, two-spirted, binary, cis-gender, creative, linear, sporty, frilly; all fabulous. But even writing these labels down, seems unfair to me.

Everyone has value. Everyone brings gifts into the world. Women are no exception.

When we run into trouble is when we try to fit into a world that attempts to slot us into boxes of the absolute. We are humans after all; creatures who by nature, try to figure the world out (and frankly figure ourselves out too), with the labels available to us. Sometimes, in our lifetime, more labels are added that make us feel like we fit… somewhere.

As a person who identifies as a hetero, white woman, gently past 50, I’m curious about what lies ahead for me. I am somewhat ashamed to say I am just realizing the extreme privilege I have been afforded because of my identity, despite thinking I struggled. With help, I have been chipping away at my own white fragility.

Last summer, walking on the beach, my body felt the anguish of a tortured life; a fractured soul, when I picked up a feather. At first, it signified to me the joy I felt as a girl, putting it in my hair as an adornment, making me feel beautiful; the feather adding something exotic to my pigtails. It brought warmth to my heart. But the sudden pain I sensed when I bent down to pick up the small white feather was unmistakable. It was as if I could feel the years of abuse, a girl not much different from me, endured when she wore that feather in her hair. I felt ashamed and yet deeply empathetic. It haunted me. I wrote about it at the time.

I thought to myself, “Who is calling me? Who is asking me to follow the pain?”

I tucked this away because I didn’t understand it.

At the start of 2020, I felt like an elastic band, taut and ready to spring but also so tight and stretched, I was starting to fray. Something was stirring just beneath the surface of my skin. 

I had just started a new job and wasn’t fully trained before I had to jump in and try to make sense of what was going on and be useful to the members of our organization.

I was shocked, terrified, anxious and took to crying; a lot.

I am a childless adult; one who didn’t have trouble getting pregnant, but who did have trouble with intimate romantic relationships. I made a choice early on that if I were to become a mother, I didn’t want to make the conscious choice to do it on my own, right out of the gate. Not to say women can’t be exceptional single parents, it was just a choice I made from a place of my own sadness from my lived experience.

Because of this choice, I’ve come to think of myself as a person who has wandered aimlessly, pursuing the life-meaning and legacy perhaps parents get from watching their children grow up; the inspiration, the gratification, the joy and the purpose.  I have been seeking purpose.

The pandemic has made me realize that I have been living my present, informed by how my past has hurt me, when I could have been living, informed by what I’ve learned from that hurt. I pushed it all down. I had to process it all, to sit in the pain and discomfort in order to live from a more evolved place.

And so the process went. There was (and still is)  a lot of wrestling and rambling, crumbling and cracking of armour in the form of old thoughts and belief systems. This had to happen for love to emerge. I haven’t been able to hold space for others with any effectiveness, because I hadn’t held space for myself.  I have cried a lot of tears of self-compassion. Those tears come from a place of honesty, integrity and of decency. But also, a place of shame. I held onto a lot of shame; shame because of my bad decisions, shame because of my past, shame because of my perceived failures, and sometimes shame because of my successes.

Brené Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

I began to realize that I could hold space for many feelings at the same time. I can hold space for the shame, sit in it, have compassion for myself, while still being honest about my inactivity, my missing allyship, my inability to speak up for myself and others, and owning my weaknesses, as well as my strengths. These have all contributed to the white supremacist patriarchal system I have been benefiting from and complacent in. I can feel all of that, own it and let the shame dissipate. And I can do better.

And  during this pandemic, I had no time to rush, only time for remembering that love is all that matters.

It’s not to say I’m not constantly stumbling and being awkward and getting it completely wrong, but I am able to hold space because I know I can stop and process all that I struggle with, in real time. And my purpose is to leave this world better than I entered it. I can lead with that intention.

Of course, I wish I would have embraced this sooner,  but I just wasn’t ready for it. I am compassionate towards myself that I am doing it all in perfect time; in my time.

Now I feel as free as an empty room. While others may consider it stark, cold and without imagination or character, I think there’s something beautiful about what an empty room lacks. 

It is without pretense, without judgement; there is no indication that you don’t belong. It is open, inviting and a blank canvas that hauntingly whispers, “Can we start now?”

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