The fasten seatbelt sign illuminated as the pilot described unexpected turbulence and midwestern storms up ahead. The need to drop altitude, slow down air speed. The result — a delayed arrival by nearly one hour. Perturbed passengers. Hot air and anger thickening the already stagnant cabin.
Just moments earlier, I had smiled at the prospect of wheels down, anticipating a 360-degree view of familiar landscape: majestic mountains, grape vineyards, farmland, in a word — home.
I listened as audible groans and frustration swarmed the Boeing. There would be missed connecting flights. I was en route from Newark, New Jersey to Denver, Colorado, with a final leg to Fresno. It promised to be a long day.
Knowing I could either join the angst or get lost in reflection over the week that had passed, I reached down into my purse for pen and paper. Words had always come to my rescue. Today was no exception.
Over the past decade, my personal flight pattern had endured bouts of turbulence and the need to grab hold of a metaphorical “oxygen mask” every now and then. But with each leg of life, I’d learned more about piloting my way through, claiming my baggage, and accruing miles in lieu of madness.
It had been one of those life-is-very-good weeks despite the pressures of keynoting before an international women’s symposium. Obsessing for hours, I edited and tweaked remarks, rehearsed like crazy before taking the podium — one shared with scholars whose credentials impressed, surpassed and terrified.
More impressive was the diverse and global audience, women from around the world. They came from as far away as Manila, Philippines; Copenhagen, Denmark; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Islamabad, Pakistan; Fukuoka, Japan; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Brussels, Belgium; Havana, Cuba; Alexandria, Egypt; and Hyderabad, India.
I checked into my hotel, handed driver’s license and credit card to a man behind the desk, all the while questioning my changing identity and the strange journey that had gotten me here — one I could never have planned or imagined. Second-guessing myself, I wondered what on Earth I could possibly say to this worldly gathering.
That to lead one must find her voice, make a declaration of independence, risk everything, and have a personal stake in change?
That learning to trust one’s own judgment is tricky at best, but finding a circle of spirited, confident women to nurture and support your dreams is crucial?
That our journeys, no matter how well rehearsed and choreographed, will grab us by the ankles at some point, trying to take us down?
Alas, I would tell my story, knowing that by sharing our collective wounds and scars, they had a chance of morphing into marks of distinction, “beauty marks,” I think I called them. I read excerpts from a battered fuchsia journal given to me by my daughter following a downpour so unthinkable, I thought we would all drown.
I asked them to reciprocate, make note of their own secret thoughts, including things that scared and kept them awake at night. I had highlighted in yellow the importance of owning our stories — not letting them own us.
One woman, quite stately and demure and probably the most unsuspecting of the group, approached me on the sly, whispering her fears, suddenly stark naked of the titles and degrees that normally trail her name. Her admission unhinged floodgates, spilling truth and freedom of speech everywhere. We were women supporting, inspiring, and empowering women. No one dared let go.
Moreover, we discovered a beautiful optimism breathing inside our skin, solidarity of sisterhood, one with renewed commitment to trail blaze, break barriers, and continue the work of those who had come before us. Vowing to declare our independence of thought and mind, we promised to create new bridges across borders, cultures, rivers and oceans.
Over dinner on our last night together, I let down my hair, confessing how much I loved the romance of checking into a hotel, throwing myself onto a king-sized bed, catching my breath. They would agree without apology our need to run away from it all on occasion, taking a recess and pressing the pause button. These were lessons we hoped to teach our daughters and granddaughters. Being a woman is hard work.
Saying our goodbyes, I felt grateful knowing I had friends in every corner of the globe, and in my own private corner, too.
We landed safely and I spent the next evening with my three granddaughters, celebrating life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Savoring the sweetness of our reunion, I secretly hoped I was earning their trust, serving as a role model — a “shero” in their lives, and above all, a woman worthy of becoming a guiding force in an ever-changing and challenging universe.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland —an Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship.” (Globe Pequot Press, 2012) and a collection of essays, “My Name is Armen — a Life in Column Inches.” Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ArmenBacon.