The Quiet Ones

I’ve always admired quiet strength–people who wield power in a way that is so subtle the source can go undetected or overlooked. It helps if these power players can hide behind a blustery front man, someone who draws all the attention, usually because they believe they’re in charge (must be yelled, while pounding on a table).

For me it all started with the nuns. In the early 1970’s I went to an all-girl, Catholic school that was run entirely by an order of nuns. Women’s lib was all over the news at the time–images of women protesting, burning their bras, joining the work force (and showing up in pants suits! gasp) The nuns didn’t protest loudly, some opted out of wearing habits, but they did so with little fanfare. On the surface they seemed almost cloistered from the changing times, but I can tell you they were revolutionaries, making huge strides for the cause of equality for women. They had a school full of females, potential future leaders in their eyes and they led by example. They ran the place, with no priest or male influence in sight. Our principal, Sr. Steppe, was a pillar of a woman who could intimidate at the Leona Helmsley level but also possessed a wicked sense of humor and a truly kind heart, which she shared with me more than once when I was (insert terror soundtrack) sent to the principal’s office for failing grades.

In general, worldwide, nuns have kept a low profile. So low that the ruling Church patriarchy ignored them, figuring them meek and weak. Ha!

For decades they used the fact that they were on the front lines for the Church, much more involved with the communities they lived and worked in than the priests, to build up the parishioners and students. They not only promoted equality to the millions of Catholic girls they taught, they also promoted acceptance for gays. In 2012 the Vatican finally paid them some attention–the angry kind, accusing them of radical feminism and undermining the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality (AP, May 6, 2014). I’m proud to say that these women who gave me my first taste of the power of quiet strength haven’t backed down. (You go girls!!!)

Fast forward to 2014. I read a fantastic series about the King Arthur legend as told from the perspective of Guinevere. Not only did the author, Lavinia Collins, create a wonderfully-complex queen in Guinevere, she introduced me to Nimue. I love Nimue, the quiet, sweet young woman who tricks the master magician, Merlin and plays puppet master to knights and a king. Her quiet power reminded me of the nuns, of women who are overlooked and written off as having no chance of being a threat. Women who are smart enough use this to their advantage.

I’ve distilled this energy and poured the nuns and Guinevere and Nimue into the heroine of my work-in-progress, Vivienne. I’m currently writing the second book in the series where she meets her first blustery men in charge and figures out how to gain power then wield it. She’s still young at this point and like a sorcerer’s apprentice she is discovering her powers; powers she will hone and refine to create the life she wants.

Do you know of a Quiet One, someone who wields stealth power? Comment below and share their (or your) story. If you would like to support Catholic nuns in their stand against the Vatican, you can find information on The Nun Justice Project here. If you do follow up on their story, get ready to be wowed by some very wise, very strong little old ladies.

If I Die Young

I went to the funeral of a young, beautiful, vibrant woman who died of breast cancer this past week. It was a heart-breaking event that caused me to pause and reflect on my life, on how I will or want to be remembered and on how I spend my time. It took two planes then a nine hour drive to be able to go to her funeral, but it was worth it. 

Tricia was no shrinking violet. She was smart and strong and spoke her mind and I loved that so many people were there to honor her for being such a strong woman. She and I shared the fact that we are married to very smart men. Even though she was younger than me, I loved the way, and studied, how she held her own in debates with him. She spoke her mind and never shied away from Thanksgiving table debates. I didn’t really find my voice until recently and there are times I still consider taking the soft-spoken, sweet girl route and not rocking the boat. I’m glad she rocked the boat, that she had strong ideals and wasn’t afraid to share them.

We were also both moms. Her girls got up and read a poem at her funeral and I was amazed at how much of not only her physical beauty they posses, but also how much of her strength. I’m not sure I could have done the same at their age. You could see that though they were devastated by the loss of their mother, they both have her spirit. I could see the amazing women they will become, in part due to this tragedy. Some are crushed by an event like this, others are forged by it. 

I was struck by the ways her family embraced and celebrated her feminist ideals. Her pallbearers were all women, the preacher spoke of how important it was to her that her daughters not believe in a world that limited women, a woman from the church sang “I Did It My Way.” 

Funerals are important for the living. They give us closure and allow us to grieve together and comfort each other, but this one, for a young mother, did more than that for me. It strengthened me and made me more committed to writing this blog, writing novels, jumping out of airplanes, getting tattoos, and basically not living a chicken-shit life any more. It confirmed all the positive changes I’ve made in the past few years.  

I didn’t allow myself to get into thoughts of why this had to happen to her. I don’t believe there is some master plan or reason for such a tragic death. But I do believe that we can choose our reaction to it. I’m using the deep sadness I feel about her death to reaffirm my life. Because of Tricia I will continue to be stronger, to have opinions and crusade for causes I believe in and to raise my sons to be good men who appreciate strong, smart women.