I've been thinking about International Women's Day all day. I've been thinking of women I admire, both women of the past and women alive today.
Then, I thought of a piece of information I recently came upon, information that has made me pause and reconsider one of the women I have admired for a long time.
A few years ago, I read a poem that stopped me in my tracks and made me sit up and re-read it almost every day for several months.
It's Anne Sexton's 'Welcome Morning'
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
by Ann Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Toward God, 1975
Isn't that lovely? I love the last lines the most; though the pea-green house is such a vivid, wonderful detail. But those last lines are so heartbreakingly true.
I've long held Sexton in some sort of mythical regard, what with the legend of her death - with her mother's fur coat and having poured herself a drink. I'm not sure why it has a touch of romanticism, but I think this precarious balancing act is common in our views of literary (or other) greats.
So, the other day, when I learned Anne Sexton abused her daughter (incest, to be exact), I was a little stunned out of that romantic stupor.
I've been reading about it since.
Linda Gray Sexton writes about it herself, here.
The New York Times wrote this book review (of the book, written after Sexton's suicide, which divulged the secret), here.
It all makes me ask: can we honor the art, the artist, the public persona while recoiling from certain aspects of the person herself?
Or do we have to love it all, the messy parts right along with the ability to write: the joy that isn't shared, I've heard, dies young?
Here are 10 other women I admire, am inspired by and who have helped shape and define for me my own life as a woman, from childhood to motherhood and (fingers crossed) even further.
1. My mother for never failing to confront her own self and for always trying to do better, even when she's done well enough as it stands.
2. My older sister for teaching me to cook, to entertain, to give people cocktails before they ask for them and that candlelight is the ultimate beauty treatment.
3. My little sister for reminding me that kindness wins, that people can be respectable and that a glass of wine and cheese tray matter more than the sink full of dirty dishes.
4. Adele for being a general badass.
5. Louisa May Alcott for Little Women.
6. Michelle Obama & Laura Bush for keeping it classy.
7. Willa Cather for Death Comes for the Archbishop.
8. Ann Patchett for Bel Canto.
9. Eleanor Roosevelt for setting the example.
10. Beatrix Potter for making my (and my children's) childhood sweeter.
I could obviously go on and on. The list is endless, but on this day, my overwhelming feeling is gratitude that I get to be part of it at all.
Who do you admire?