Jan Phillips
Cathy Conheim, L.C.W.S.
Christine Forester

 

• Jan Phillips •

When I look to what fuels me for the journey, what helps me through the dark, I see that at every threshold, it is the women in my life who hold the light. And how they help is not by saying "go here, go there," but by sharing with me their own journeys through the rough terrain.

Thirty years ago when I left the convent and tried to find a new way in the world, every path I took seemed wrong. I was too much the renegade to fit in my community, and too much the nun to feel at home in my culture. In my early twenties, I had little self-awareness, less self-esteem, and was enraged and devastated by this rejection from my superiors.

In my mid-twenties, the second wave of feminism crashed upon my shore. When I sat in my first women’s circle, listening to the stories of our lives, I was stunned by the similarities that surfaced. We had assimilated all the same lessons—to look and act a certain way, to follow men’s lead, to defer to authority, to be docile and polite and hospitable. We all knew exactly what we were supposed to be doing, but struggled to uncover what we wanted to be doing, or more precisely, what we wanted to be.

We circled and talked for months and months, each of us revealing our deepest fears, our long-held secrets, our anger and disenchantment and visions of a life that we ourselves ordained. And what happened in that circle was that we spoke ourselves into being. Through the sharing of our stories, we discovered who we were, what we wanted, what was and was not acceptable. We healed ourselves, fortified ourselves. And when the doors opened, we emerged en masse as strong women, brave women, women tuned in to our own desire, in touch with and informed by our own wisdom.

Over the years, I have done what I could to encourage this life-giving process of sharing our stories. In the 80s I traveled around the world as a peace activist/photographer creating an occasion for people to gather and share our visions of a peaceful world. With fellow activists, I helped birth the Syracuse Cultural Workers to create an opening and clearinghouse for life-affirming art. I marched in countless human rights demonstrations for all of us who are marginalized and vilified for causes beyond our control.

In the 90s, my attention took a turn inward, calling me into my deeper places, so I could ponder and write of the world I envision and am co-creating. From this calm place came the confidence to teach, to hold a mirror to others’ potential, encouraging my sisters and brothers to speak their truths.

And I see this book as another mirror, a compilation of stories that may reveal us to ourselves, unravel some of our mysteries, unleash some of our courage. This is the power, the alchemy of truth-telling—that one’s sorrow, when spoken, can source another’s strength; one’s fear, when shared, can move another to action.

In a bookstore today, I came across a quote by Filipina activist, Dazzle Rivera: "As activists, we must adopt a mind-set of anticipation. We must no longer surf the wave. We must become the wind that creates the wave."

The voices in these stories are the vortex of just such a wind.

 

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