Thursday, August 27, 2009

back to school

I've read or heard so many people's reflections on going back to school sheep-like, I'm writing my own.

It's only been about six weeks that I've been out of class, and a significant portion of that time was spent doing groundwork for an independent study project. So it's far easier to see the descent of students as an intrusion than any sort of new beginning. Road construction in Columbia has made running errands an obstacle course. The roads weren't in bad shape to begin with, people in Maine would have been *thrilled* with them. But now I find myself dodging rippled pavement, heavy machinery and orange cones nearly every where I go. The textbook buying/bill paying/random office visiting routine is a little old after nearly six years of post-secondary education. Parking on campus is beyond abysmal and dictates my daily schedule. And either all the stress of the past eight months has taken up residence in my abdomen or I've picked up a rather pesky stomach bug somewhere. There's upsides....all that road construction means jobs for someone, several of these books will be great references, and pepto-bismol capsules are lifesavers.

I'm a fan of most of the faculty and staff in the School of Public Health. However, it's a behemoth of an institution, and trying to maneuver through it is like swimming upstream through mud. I unreservedly love the students in my department though. And it's been good to come back and reconnect- to gush about travels, independent studies, research projects. There's nothing like talking health ed, nutrition, HIV rates, health disparities with people who care as much, if not more than I do. It's amazing how much more room to breathe I have here than at a certain small liberal arts Evangelical college.

Ink pens and packs of writing paper don't excite me nearly as much as they used to. There's so much more promise in that hint of coolness first thing in the morning . . .It seems life has adjusted to where my year begins in Advent, not August now. Ultimately, I think this will be a better rhythm, but it feels strange at the moment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"This is what a feminist looks like"

My father recently joined facebook. I'm not sure what my parents' goal was in child raising-if they hoped to send another right-wing evangelical off to spread the gospel/fight the culture wars/ raise like-minded children, they failed miserably. If they were hoping to raise a gutsy compassionate young woman who thinks for herself and has a fierce loyalty to Christ and the Church, they hit a home run. Given this dichotomy, I had to family-proof my facebook profile. A couple photo albums were marked off limits, the link to this blog hidden, and I left two facebook groups:"I'm sorry, Jesus probably wasn't white...or Republican" and "This is what a feminist looks like."

This wasn't easy-"Feminist" is a label I've sported proudly since high school. Somewhere, I may still have a button or t-shirt with the above statement...or perhaps, the more direct "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."

And as I'm leaving facebook groups, the NYT is stepping up publicity for Nick Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn's upcoming book "Half the Sky." (I have this pre-ordered on Amazon, and am literally breathless with anticipation. September can't get here fast enough)

"Feminism" at the end of the day is the believe that women have meaning and purpose outside of men. It is the contradiction to Freud's belief that anatomy is destiny. That in legal matters, a woman's testimony should be equal to that of a man, that women have the right to own property, that they deserve the same quality medical care as men. Women are not accessories or servants, and are unique and individual, not to be traded in for the newest model. Feminism is NOT about male-bashing, hyperindividualism, or removing all restrictions from abortion. And "Feminist" is *not* a derogatory term, and I'm sick of hearing it used as such.

And every time I hear one of my Conservative Christian friends talk about "submitting" to her father/fiance' ...a shiver runs down my spine. I think this mentality of "all responsibility resides with the man and ultimately, I will only be held accountable for how well I obeyed" is downright dangerous. If gender confers absolute authority....we are left with no defense against polygamy or the bride burnings of India. If women surrender the ability to think for themselves and be held accountable for their *own* decisions, they have also surrendered their integrity, their ability to be righteous, fair, merciful human beings. That's a high price for being "obedient."

Ironically enough....the Blessed Virgin Mother is often considered the "ideal" of "biblical femininity." However, Mary's submission was not to mortal men. I'm sure an unwed pregnancy was the *last* thing her father wanted for his daughter. It required divine intervention to interrupt Joseph's plans for a quiet divorce. The Mother of God defied the male authority figures in her life in order to submit to God Himself- and this defiance is *why* she is venerated by the Church.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Because I wished to live deliberately

On occasion, I wonder why I blog or write at all, when everything I could possibly wish to say has already been said. After reading Nicholas Kristof's column, today is one of those occasions. One of my college professors was quite fond of saying that our entertainment functions as both a mirror and map of our culture- reflecting what we are, and showing where we will go. I think it would border on insulting to call the writings of a Pulitzer prize winning journalist entertainment, but Kristof is certainly both my map and mirror. Because of the depth and breadth of his concerns about the environment, human rights around the world, women's issues and education he often pushes me beyond the things I've considered, into a more committed, more compassionate view of the world. At other times, like today,when I've freshly returned from two weeks spent mainly wandering the woods in Belize, he reflects my own ponderings and concerns.

The greatest gift my parents gave me-one of relatively few gifts I have no mixed feelings about-was the outdoors. As an infant and toddler I was carried along on trails from Maryland all the way up to Maine. One of my favorite memories is the week we spent camping at Bandelier National Monument (my brother was about 6 months old at the time). Even in Arequipa, we found ways to manage- the dirt road behind our house led to the Chile River, and there were nights of pitching a tent in the backyard...and of course, MK camp at Shiran. My mom's parents had a farm just outside of Santa Fe- complete with horses, sheep, goats, guinea hens, doves, finches, pheasants, and a pair of Shelties. When my great-grandmother's health began deteriorating, they moved back to my grandmother's parents' farm- the Pea Patch, not too far from Denver. My grandfather is 80 and in the early stages of Alzheimer's, but with the help of the grandsons he still maintains an impressive vegetable garden. And this is why the only requirements for my dream home are a vegetable garden, a compost pile and a clothesline.

In college I kept my hiking boots and an extra pair of socks in my pickup truck at all times. Especially my senior year, I was so frequently at the point of exhaustion that an exceptionally tough microbiology quiz was enough to send me scrambling for my textbook and keys and dashing to the nearby wilderness area. My favorite weekends in Maryland were the chilly hikes around Jerusalem Mills village...usually followed by making a pot of soup.To borrow a line from my journal: "I go to the woods to know that I exist."

Or, as Henry David Thoreau put it:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to "glorify God and enjoy him forever."-Walden Pond

God himself has refused to answer me at times. But the trees and rocks and streams are constant -beautiful, familiar yet austere, liberating and cleansing. Nature has never failed me, and this is likely why I believe so strongly that it should be protected.