Posted by: Brie | November 22, 2012

Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down! This Thanksgiving I Celebrate My Sisters

One of the lines that has always gotten me through life as an activist was given to me by my boyfriend.  Don’t let the turkeys get you down! he always says and no matter what is going on when I hear it, my face lights up and giggles spill.  What I love most about Thanksgiving is that it is a time to reflect on the abundance that surrounds us.  While it may not always seem apparent, life itself is an endlessly regenerating gift and sacred opportunity for self-realization.  This season’s blog is a tribute to all the women who have offered their ineffable goodness to Love the Skin You’re In.  You are too numerous for a single blog; every time I go to publish this another one of you pops into my consciousness.  Whether you find yourself in what follows or not, know that I couldn’t be where I am without you.

While many people are moved by this project, I have never seen someone so actively clear barriers as Dr Mary Tantillo.  Despite the demands of heading up the University of Rochester School of Nursing and directing the Western New York Comprehensive Care Center for Eating Disorders, she has wholeheartedly thrown herself into this initiative.  When Mary discovered Love the Skin You’re In, she reached out to every school region across greater Rochester encouraging them to host a seminar.  She then submitted a grant proposal, returned countless correspondences, and reached into her pocket to cover my travel with her tiny budget.  It will be my honor to speak at her Lovin’ Cup event there on February 24th in celebration of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  This woman is my champion.

Thank you spirit, for bringing me Mary Tantillo.

It is Sunday morning.  I’m at my computer immersed in email networking to further my dream when the phone rings.  On the other end of the line, a woman’s voice sounds in high tones, awash in apology for calling on a Sunday.  To this day I do not understand the apology, from a Philadelphia angel disguised as a mother whose effusive goodness pours forth from her like maple sugar water early in spring. She has watched my video online and wants to do whatever she can to further Love the Skin You’re In’s message.  My heart starts to feel like a firefly as we begin the dance of female friendship, our energy at once meeting in the vast and sacred territory of the heart.

It isn’t until the call’s end that I catch her name: Merry-Lita Bliss.  Now I am apologizing:  I’m sorry, did I catch that right?  Did you just say your name is Merry Bliss?  As in the word that comes before Christmas and awakening spelled out? A pause.  Laughter rings magnanimously like Christmas bells on the other end of the phone.  Merry Bliss swiftly becomes a spiritual partner in ushering this work forth into the world.  Over the phone she becomes my confidante, a kindred spirit whom I’ve never met whose courage, born of heart, led her to pick up the phone and let me know that I am not alone in this plight.  We now have 10,000 young women in eighteen schools lined up in Philadelphia ready and waiting to hear this message.

 Thank you, spirit, for bringing me Merry Lita Bliss.

Here she is all yogified.

Okay I admit it:  I am on facebook, eyes trained to the homepage where photos by the hundreds scroll.  Over time, one woman stands out as one of my favourite cyber beacons.  Like a lighthouse in the social media world, Katherine Witteman’s posts shine through cyberspace guiding cyberbullies home to their true natures not by admonishing the darkness, but by bringing the light.  I am moved to connect with this Portland Mama Goddess whose family photographs carve pathways of possibility for mother-daughter relationships everywhere.  Katherine, whose daughters are featured as whole, multi-dimensional human beings sparkling like the sun.  Katherine, whose 14-year-old daugther Julia is beginning a grassroot documentary called The Courage Project.

The Amazing Julia, Founder and Visionary Director of  The Courage Project

Katherine, whose posts of Rumi, Michelle Obama and other inspirational figureheads remind me that I am not alone.  I send Katherine my video from my recent New Zealand tour.  Her superlatives evoke a party in my heart as she exclaims that she and her daughters have watched it three times and would love to bring Love the Skin You’re In to Portland, calling the work ‘life-saving.’  The light within me softens, the bright glare of beaming this work hard into the world of adolescent girls suddenly turning to a sure and steady flame.  Katherine is teaching me what it is to be a lantern.  In the blessing of her collaboration I know surrender and sisterhood, her gentle light like the moon reflecting on the stilling waters within me.

 Thank you, spirit, for bringing me Katherine Witteman.

I am home for Canadian Thanksgiving.  We meet in coffee shops with brick walls, attend leadership gatherings hosted by the local YWCA, pad through the forest in mukluks and soft-soled shoes communing with the trees and finding the perfect rocks on which to meditate.

Our laughter spills onto pine needles quilting the autumn forest floor as I learn to pronounce her Ojibway name: Waabska Biizhiiki Kwe.  It means White Buffalo Woman and she is reaching and stretching and leaning from the shadows into what it is to embody this name, a gift from a medicine woman of her tribe.  Waabska and I have been sisters for four years.  Spirit brought us together after a talk at her high school.  Her healing journey from anorexia sparked, she reached out to clasp my hand and a flurry of emails and phone calls ensued.  What an honour it has been to hold the candle she chose to warm her mind and body, to witness the sacred soul retrieval one embarks upon when knowing lands.

Waabska Biizhiiki Kwe shimmers as we walk.  Like a woodland fairy from our shared Muskoka roots, she seems not to be putting one foot before the other, but floating.  I bask in the waves of her joy.  I may nudge her when her mind gets stuck and suggest readings to light her way…but clearly this incarnation of White Buffalo Woman is my teacher.

Thank you spirit, for bringing me Waabska Biizhiiki Kwe, White Buffalo Woman.

I’m going to be a lion.  Her tone is insistent.  No matter the handmade-with-love fairy princess costume her Nana (my mother) has made for her five-year-old granddaughter, her earlier-requested Halloween costume.  Admittedly I wasn’t exactly stoked on the fairy princess role to begin with, but having watched my mother at the sewing machine for days making even a perfect silver wand to match, I felt my stomach sink just a little. Why is that Leah?, we all ask as she races around the house in the princess costume imagining her billowing out into the night all silvery and flush beneath layers of lavender.

Because princesses can’t run!, she says before racing to fetch her lion costume (also hand-sewn by my mother for her big brother three years ago).  Sam lovingly helps her into her costume as she lets out a mighty roar and I watch rapt as the two take flight across the stretching lawns of neighbours on Halloween night, Leah’s legs wheeling to keep up with her big brother.

But of course being able to run is the most important thing on Halloween.  A feminist is born.  In my heart a full-blown celebrative bash ignites as I imagine a world in which little girls everywhere duly ditched their princess duds for the garb of mighty lions.  What a wonderful world it could be.

Thank you spirit, for bringing me lionhearted Leah.

And so I muse: I love what happens when women unite, the mountains that move when they wake.  I love the lines of connection we forge – often at a distance, seemingly out of thin air.  I am grateful for these connections sewn together not by trust that is earned, but by trust that is given.

Thank you, sweet women, for joining me.

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