I had surprised myself by saying yes, quickly and unscrupulously, to joining the new, all-female co-working space in Raleigh. Co-working made sense, in theory, but I had tried it once and failed. The small talk stalled out fast. My will to put pants on followed.
It was Em, the red-headed brains behind the launch, who convinced me this time would be different. Em is a professional hype girl. Seriously, this is what her Instagram profile says—professional hype girl—and it is one hundred percent true. Even on our fifteen minute informational interview, she said I was COOL no less than three times. Now, I know there are cooler words than cool these days. But when Em says it, you believe her.
And what woman doesn’t need to believe her own good hype?
It wasn’t just the idea of sharing space with strangers, though, that I thought would make me nervous. It was also the idea of sharing space with other women. It’s not that I don’t like other women. (And I am categorically against the category of people who do.) But big groups of them often made me nervous because I got the feeling that I made them nervous.
As the social sorting starts between moms and non-moms, at-homes and at-works, high heels and no heels, I end up somewhere in the uncomfortable middle. There are no easy boxes under which to build a fort, buddy up, and take shelter.
“I’m a formerly childfree mom of three,” I want to say, but who would believe me?
“I work from home to pursue my purpose not the kiddos’,” I want to offer but worry about coming off as callous.
And high heels or no heels? I’ve been living in my lavender Birkenstocks for months now but after turning thirty-five declared I was “bringing sexy back” and bought a pair of lavender wedges. Like the hue I can’t get enough of, I fall somewhere between primary colors.
If anyone could bring fifty women together in a room without walls, though, I thought it was Em. She had asked us to come prepared to our welcome dinner with a few prompts to introduce ourselves. Normal stuff like your name and what you do for work or fun. And not so normal stuff like what animal you would ride into battle if you could shrink or blow-up any species. (My dog Alvin, 500-lbs, BAREBACK.) As we went around the long, candle-lit table, I leaned in for each woman’s answers, listening for echoes of my own. And here’s what I heard:
I heard women who were excited to press into their purpose as jewelry makers and wedding photographers, parenting bloggers and social workers, pastors and yoga instructors.
I heard women who were craving a group of earnest entrepreneurs with whom they could swap stories of epic fails and tiny victories.
I also heard a few women list something called “wine walks” as one of their favorite pastimes (and made a mental note to connect with these folks later).
In other words, I heard a lot of women who were making a life beyond the binaries of what we call childless and childfull, work and home, shoulds and wants. These were my kind of women, and I was beginning to think we were legion.
I was beginning to think we were more alike than unalike.
We’re more alike than unlike, God’s love note said to me that gleaming evening. God must be talking to Maya Angelou again, I thought. God must be talking about the human family. God must be talking about me and the women. Everyone belongs.
But I also took God to mean that we are more alike than unalike, too. Me and the divine family. Me and God. I remembered that God is known in my tradition for calling himself “I am who I am” before identifying as “The Lord, the God of your fathers.” I remembered that, like God, I belong to myself (a soul) before I belong to anyone else (a role).
Second century church thinker Clement of Alexandria articulated this same point, arguing for a multiplicity of names for God since no single one could express his essence but taken together they could express his power. Why shouldn’t it be the same with us? We are not only and ever one thing or the other. We are made whole by the many things expressed within and among us.
So, enough with the sorting (COUGH, Erin). Enough with the sizing. Enough with the counting yourself out before you’ve ever been counted in. No one has your story but no one has a single story either.
Who needs a box to buddy up under when the roof is wide open?
As the night sky began to peer through the window, Em thanked us for taking a risk on this sisterhood we were desperate for but didn’t know was possible. Then, she mentioned the SWAG bag we could pick up on our way out.
I stopped listening so well after that.
Bike helmet still clipped to my hip, I barreled through the group of women, beaming from all the big talk, scheming to grab the lavender tumbler before it was gone.
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