On Being a Universe

Being a girl is easy. Girls float through life, from one mall or man or movie to the next, skimming the surface and never asking too many questions, certainly not any that she may find herself as the disappointing answer to. It has nothing to do with age, being a girl. It’s about dimension.

Being a woman, on the other hand, is as Joy Williams sings, “a universe wrapped in skin.” That line is sheer perfection. Imagine the blinding white hot life force of a universe only barely contained each second in a paper thin boundary, and you have the experience of womanhood. If you haven’t yet listened to her new album, VENUS, I tell you to RUN, don’t walk to your nearest listening device and make it happen. Preferably with a full-bodied red wine in hand and the lights out. While I can’t call her a friend of my own, she’s been on the edges of my circle and I’ve always admired her – kind, talented, gracious. But I never expected the vulnerable ferocity with which she’s written this record. She’s a woman reconstructing herself after the collapse of the scaffolding in her past.

Sound familiar? Joy is writing her story in poetry and I’m writing mine in prose. 

Here’s what I thought being a woman used to mean. Certainty about one’s purpose and plans. Feathers incapable of being ruffled. Completely checked column of boxes. A woman didn’t have to question herself, the status quo, or especially her faith. Being a woman meant that you’d arrived (where, exactly, I wonder now?), answers in hand.

Now I know that all couldn’t be further from the truth. Being a woman is the most uncertain place one can live, and it’s the only way. Being a woman requires living firmly in the intersection of the fears that keep you awake at night and the dreams you want so badly it physically aches. Anywhere else is retreat. It means looking hard into the mirror each day, seeing the wildness in your eyes, and embracing it. A woman does not hide, especially from herself. It means owning the fierce intensities you feel – be they ecstasy, rage, or desire – but not always demanding satiation. A woman does not make apologies for the volume of her passion, nor does she use it to drown out the voices around her. It means living without complete answers and finding strength not to be crushed by the weight of your questions. A woman knows a life of only resolution and neat edges means she’s not diving deep enough. It means admitting that sometimes the problem is you, you with your white lies and self-obsession and denial. A woman is willing to look within first, apologize first, forgive first.

I am jagged yet round. I feel capable of greatness and also a fraud. I deeply crave both connection and autonomy. My blessings leave me breathless but I no longer feel shame for also desiring mountains to move for me. I believe myself to be remarkable yet deeply flawed. This is being a woman, living with a determined peace inside contradictions and grayscale.

And this is grace, that God walks me with me from girl to woman, patiently allowing me to discover that life’s pain and delay and rejection soaks into the pores of my soul in order to both soften and strengthen me.

the universe of womanhood

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