The Widow's War

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Yesterday I had an inspiring day at the Denver Botanic Gardens with my daughter and her husband and in-laws.  As we strolled toward the parking garage, drunk on the saturation of all things botanical, someone mentioned lunch.  Not to worry, I told myself.  I had already anticipated this and thought it through.

It was about the check, of course.  When I was married I wouldn't have given it a second thought.  The in-laws and my husband and I would split the check, treating the kids.  But now....geez.

Paying only for myself seemed a bit stingy to me, as that would likely leave the in-laws to pay for the kids.  Paying for everyone seemed a bit magnanimous.  Neither did I  want them to feel they had to treat the "poor widow."  So the check came and I took it and looked at Katie's mother-in-law and said, should we split it?  She looked relieved too.

Thus, the essence of a new widow's struggle.  Sally Gunning, in this story, helped me articulate this struggle so that I could make these strange and unfamiliar decisions with confidence.

Her story, of 18th century widow Lyddie, who lost her husband of 20 years to a whale boating accident has given me an honest and hopeful archetype of the widow's experience.  She crafted a story that mirrored for me some of my own conflicts in negotiating widowhood.  It also gave me much to be grateful for.

In 18th century America, it was assumed that a widow would move into the home of her eldest child, or the male heir since, legally, all of she and her husband's property now belonged to that heir.  Lyddie had just one daughter, so all of her property went to her son-in-law, on whom she became dependent for everything.

Gunning drew two traits in Lyddie, a character I grew to love and learn from.  They could, most simply be called strength and courage.  But these were much more nuanced. Self-reliance and emotional independence.

The detail of her circumstances that enraged me most was the sense of entitlement on the part of her son-in-law and other people who had business interests in her property.  As a 21st century woman, I escaped that. I have the financial independence and freedom that I always took for granted.  I no longer take it for granted.  I know many people fought hard and some gave their lives so that I could have this freedom.

But emotional independence?  Not so much.

That's why  Lyddie's story of emotional dependence and subsequent freedom is what most inspired me.

In the story, as you might expect, in rides the man on the white horse, a local attorney who had the knowledge and the means to make Lyddie's problems all go away, if she would just marry him.

Thank you Sally Gunning for creating a character in Lyddie who understood the price she would truly pay in order to live in the illusion of security.  It was clear to Lyddie, if not to everyone else, that marriage would not offer her any more independence than life with her daughter and son-in-law would offer.  Legally, her husband would own her property.

I kept thinking, Lyddie, just  marry the guy.  He's a decent guy!  He'll be good to you!  That's what we all say, right?  But, no, Lyddie discovered that she wanted to live life on her terms, regardless the cost.

Another aspect that I admired was Lyddie's fierce self-reliance.  She simply WOULD NOT accept anything from anyone that she had not worked for.  

I've always considered myself a pretty self-reliant person.  Now I realize that, in marriage, I had grown used the the give and take that living with a partner provides.  I was not self-reliant.  I got married when I was 23 years old, so I hadn't had many years in my life when I'd had to be.

When Roy died, I could feel this cloying neediness creeping in.  This terror that I couldn't handle life on my own.  Lyddie and I faced that head on. Yes we did.  And we both, one baby step at a time, learned about what self-reliance looked like for us.

It's always so fun when a plot line takes a twist that delights. In the end Lyddie ended up owning her home through a series of negotiations that she worked out.  And the 'knight on the white horse' attorney rented a room from her.

It's true, Lyddie didn't do this by herself.  While her community wasn't much support to her, there were a few critical people who understood what she was trying to do and lent a hand. 

That is God.  That is where I learned that my reliance has to be on me and God.  Like Lyddie, I have to believe in this world that I am worthy of provision and do not need to rely on others for my well-being.  And then, the others in my life, are a comfort and a joy.





Maleficent's Feminist Rewrite

The Young Maleficent

Thank you, Linda Woolverton for this beautifully crafted extension of the traditional Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.  You have given us a new mythology with new archetypes woven with the riches of feminine energy.  Here's a bit of the symbolism I experienced while watching the movie and what the symbols brought up for me.

Archetype:  Stolen wings.  Ah, the nasty temptation to say that any man or male has actually stolen my power in order to enhance his own.  It is great and strong, yet I resist.  Yes, I had a very strong and overbearing father.  Yes, I have had struggles with my husband, male bosses and coworkers that have sent me into frustrating tears or rages.  But I am trying to separate, a bit, the experience in my personal relationships from the universal impact of patriarchy.  Yes, I have participated in relationships for a variety of personal reasons, healthy and unhealthy.  Yes, I feel that my power has been stolen or usurped by men.  But I see that as a dynamic playing out in a larger consciousness.  The archetype of stolen wings, stolen freedoms is much larger and more universal.  The same could be said about women stealing power from men, or from me.  But that's not what this story is about, so I don't want to digress.  To me, it is about patriarchy and all of it's negative and oppressive practices engaged by both men and women, not least of all myself, that has stolen women's power and my own power.

For that loss I, like Maleficent, grieve.  For the loss of trust in that system.  The grief when the realization strikes that the trust I had placed in a childhood belief system has robbed me of what is most freeing and empowering in my life; my own strength, power and ability.

Did you mean to say that to us all, Linda? Perhaps not, but that is what I saw.

Archetype:  Return to the inner child.  Maleficent takes it on herself to care for the infant princess, but really what choice does she have?  She sees the fairies assigned to her care for what they are; well meaning, but incompetent.  It seems to be with a heavy sigh of resignation that Maleficent finds herself returning to the infant, secretly overseeing her care and protection.  And I, too, reluctantly and with a heaving sigh at times have returned to my inner child.  Frustrated that there is no external source to care for her.  Convinced that the external source I have entrusted to care for her is SO incompetent.

It must be me.  There is really no other choice.  I must be the one to return to that inner child and watch over and protect her, love her innocence and vulnerability, gently coax her into the truth of the world upon which she will eventually be forced to embark.

Archetype:  Debunking the prince charming myth. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I was probably in my 30's revisiting the story of Cinderella with my young children when I had the aha moment, "oh, this is what they mean by fairy tale.  There is no prince charming."  Embarrassed now to admit I was that old before I got it, I have to see it for what it is.  Maybe it's a nice thing that I was able to believe as long as I did.

Thank you, again, Linda, for debunking that myth.  It is not, in fact, prince charming who is going to wake me from whatever sleep I have chosen instead of stepping into the realities of adult-hood.

Archetype:  The awakening of the feminine.  Ah, no, not the true love of a prince charming, but the true love of the feminine, in all of its confusing and mysterious manifestations, provides the princess what she needs in order to awake and move into her maturity as a woman in the world. Interesting to me that Linda did not provide for us the "mother love" interpretation. Maleficent wasn't the princess' mother.  Oh wait.  Did I miss something?  No, I don't think so.  Interesting that the mother figure is in the background.  it's so easy to get this confused with "mother love" but I believe that is an entirely different thing.  Because it is, to me, just simply feminine love.  Period.  You get to define the mode in which you best receive it.

Don't get me wrong.  Masculine love has it's place in the world as well.  Most of us understand now how masculine love is an entirely different thing than patriarchy. There is a lot to be given and received through masculine love.  And I could take this even further to collapse the dichotomy altogether and just call it love.  But I am not ready to do that.  I need the dichotomy to help me better understand my feminine nature, to give it voice in this still patriarchal world.  

Perhaps the reason this resonated with me so strongly, is that my own experience of growing empowerment and place in the world, in the universe, is not being ushered in through masculine love.  I need the feminine to help me awaken to my power, place and purpose.