I’ve always been proud to be a woman. My sense is that this feeling was instilled in me during my childhood. Aren’t most foundations laid down in childhood? My mother used to tell me that women are the luckiest of both genders. Back in her day, many married women worked outside the home because they wanted to either better themselves, earn a little extra spending money, or escape domestic tasks for a few hours a week.
Today, my mother is 89, and things have enormously changed since she was a young mother in the 1950s. In fact, they’re changing so quickly that sometimes I can’t keep up. These days, many women work because they have to for economic reasons, but no doubt many also love their chosen work outside the home. However, I do wonder, given all the changing roles that include rapidly changing gender identities, if the celebration of International Women’s Day will vanish over time.
But since we still docelebrate this day, I’d like to take a few moments to honor and thank those women who have deeply affected my life from a personal, literary, spiritual, and professional standpoint. First, of course, I’d like to thank my mother for giving me life. While she might not have been the perfect parent, she did the best she could . . . on herterms. I would like to thank my mother-in-law, Jeannine for being an amazing role model for me—how to be a wife, mother, grandmother, and compassionate woman. Also, a huge inspiration to me are my wonderful daughters, Rachel Miriam and Regine Anna. I don’t know what my life would be like without them.
Considering my early beginnings as a registered nurse, I consider Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, to be a huge inspiration. During the Crimean War, she attended to soldiers and also trained other nurses to do so. During Victorian times, and way beyond, she became an icon and was sometimes called the “lady with the lamp,” a term that was coined because of the way she made rounds attending to the soldiers. I greatly admired women such as Nightingale and Mother Teresa, who dedicated their lives to reaching out to those in need.
My father was a Holocaust survivor, and one of the first books I read about the horrors was The Diary of Anne Frank,so from an early age, she was my heroine. She was Jewish and a diarist, so her sensibilities resonated with me. Even though I no longer practice the religion, like many others, I’m still culturally Jewish, but these days I more closely follow the tenets of Buddhism. Frank perished in the Holocaust, but her book lives on to inform the rest of us. Like myself, she received her diary as a gift, and it changed her life forever. She began writing while hiding in an attic around the age of 15. She died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and after the war, her diary was found by Frank’s father, who inspired its publication into more than 60 languages.
As the child of two immigrants, I spent a great deal of my childhood alone, which led me to be an avid journal keeper. I discovered the journals of Anaïs Nin, who also began journaling from a place of pain. I’d lost my grandmother to suicide, and Nin lost herfather to a younger woman. Her voice resonated with me, and I read all her work.
Growing up as a hippie in the 1960s inspired me to appreciate the sentiments and songs of Joan Baez, an activist and songwriter. She spoke of compassion and nonviolence way before all the more recent spiritual movements. I admired her positive attitude, creativity, and commitment to the betterment of humankind. I’ve seen her perform at least six times and continue to be a fan.
My interest in Buddhism began years ago after hearing Roshi Joan Halifax speak at a conference. I loved her sense of humanness, compassion, sense of humor, and giving ways. I’ve read all her work, and when she comes to town, I make a point of hearing her speak. I also love the writings of poet Emily Dickinson, author Isabel Allende, and the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith.
This list of prominent women I admire could go on and on, but on this International Women’s Day, I believe that we should honor not just famous women, but all of those we love and admire from both a personal and professional standpoint.
This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter, a nod to the growing global push for professional and social equality.
Happy International Women’s Day to one and all!