Wisdom//

Melinda Gates on Finding Your “Moment of Lift”

"When you lift up women, you lift up humanity."

Courtesy of Bryan Bedder / Getty Images
Courtesy of Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

When I was little, space launches were a huge deal in my life. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, in a Catholic family with four kids, a stay-at- home mom, and an aerospace engineer dad who worked on the Apollo program.

On the day of a launch, we’d all pile into the car and drive to the home of one of my dad’s friends — another Apollo engineer — and watch the drama together. I can still feel in my bones the suspense of those countdowns. “Twenty seconds and counting, T minus fifteen seconds, guidance is internal, Twelve, Eleven, Ten, Nine, ignition sequence start, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Zero. All engines running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff!!!”

Those moments always gave me a thrill — especially that moment of lift when the engines ignite, the earth shakes, and the rocket starts to rise. I recently came across the phrase “moment of lift” in a book by Mark Nepo, one of my favorite spiritual writers. He uses the words to capture a moment of grace. Something was “lifted like a scarf on the wind,” he writes, and his grief went silent and he felt whole.

Mark’s image of lift is filled with wonder. And wonder has two meanings for me. It can mean awe, and it can mean curiosity. I have loads of awe — but just as much curiosity. I want to know how lift happens!

At one time or another, we’ve all been sitting on a plane at the end of a long takeoff run, waiting anxiously for the moment of lift. When the kids were little and we were on a plane ready to take off, I’d say to them “wheels, wheels, wheels,” and the moment the plane got off the ground I’d say “Wings!!” When the kids were a bit older, they would join me, and we all said it together for years. Once every so often, though, we’d say “wheels, wheels, wheels” more times than we expected, and I’d be thinking, Why is it taking so long to get off the ground!?

Why does it sometimes take so long? And why does it sometimes happen so fast? What takes us past the tipping point when the forces pushing us up overpower the forces pulling us down and we’re lifted from the earth and begin to fly?

As I’ve traveled the world for twenty years doing the work of the foundation I cofounded with my husband, Bill, I’ve wondered:

How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings — and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.

And how can we create a moment of lift in human hearts so that we all want to lift up women? Because sometimes all that’s needed to lift women up is to stop pulling them down.

In my travels, I’ve learned about hundreds of millions of women who want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t. They have no access to contraceptives. And there are many other rights and privileges that women and girls are denied: The right to decide whether and when and whom to marry. The right to go to school. Earn an income. Work outside the home. Walk outside the home. Spend their own money. Shape their budget. Start a business. Get a loan. Own property. Divorce a husband. See a doctor. Run for office. Ride a bike. Drive a car. Go to college. Study computers. Find investors. All these rights are denied to women in some parts of the world. Sometimes these rights are denied under law, but even when they’re allowed by law, they’re still often denied by cultural bias against women.

My journey as a public advocate began with family planning. Later I started to speak up about other issues as well. But I quickly realized — because I was quickly told— that it wasn’t enough to speak up for family planning, or even for each of the issues I’ve just named. I had to speak up for women. And I soon saw that if we are going to take our place as equals with men, it won’t come from winning our rights one by one or step by step; we’ll win our rights in waves as we become empowered.

These are lessons I’ve learned from the extraordinary people I want you to meet. Some will make your heart break. Others will make your heart soar. These heroes have built schools, saved lives, ended wars, empowered girls, and changed cultures. I think they’ll inspire you. They’ve inspired me.

They’ve shown me the difference it makes when women are lifted up, and I want everyone to see it. They’ve shown me what people can do to make an impact, and I want everyone to know it. That is why I wrote this book: to share the stories of people who have given focus and urgency to my life. I want us to see the ways we can help each other flourish. The engines are igniting; the earth is shaking; we are rising. More than at any time in the past, we have the knowledge and energy and moral insight to crack the patterns of history. We need the help of every advocate now. Women and men. No one should be left out. Everyone should be brought in. Our call is to lift women up — and when we come together in this cause, we are the lift.

From The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. Copyright (c) 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers.

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