*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ
As 8 March approaches once again, I am simply overwhelmed remembering the many women in my life! I stop and wonder whether it is a mere ‘cosmetic’ exercise, a kind of ‘tokenism’ just because one is on the eve of yet another ‘ international day’ ; or is there something more? And I say to myself “yes! there is more!”: celebrating the women who have been part of my life, thanking them for shaping me, for helping me to grow; asking their forgiveness for oftentimes my patriarchal, chauvinistic attitudes and for not having done enough to ensure greater equity and dignity for them; finally, to request them to continue to accompany me in this journey of life.
Women's Day 2017 at Auxilium Parish Kolkata
The first woman that comes to my heart and mind is naturally my own mother. She nurtured me in her womb for nine months, as all mothers do. She gave birth to me, cared for me, taught me the meaning and values of life, in a way only mothers can do. My mother was always a teacher; in fact an educator par excellence. Though she is no more, she will undoubtedly, always be part of my life.
Then there are my two sisters, both elder to me: they are the ones who held my hands when I learnt to walk; sat by my side when I tried to escape my studies; protected and reprimanded me, the times I was up to mischief; nevertheless have loved me and cared for me all these years.
A group of men stand in front of the Headquarters National Association opposed to Woman Suffrage. USA.
Harris & Ewing, Inc./Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Gett
My maternal grandmother (nani) and the two sisters of my mother (who were both religious nuns) were a world to me (one is still living – she is a Wonder Woman). Though miles separated us, I always looked forward to receiving their letters filled with plenty of advice and love; and of course writing to them! Summer holidays was something I eagerly look forward to – when I used to be thoroughly spoilt by a ‘doting’ grandmother; other grandaunts, aunts (including my favourite one!) and little cousin ‘sisters’ were of course ever present with their caring , challenging, cajoling, complaining and all.
We had some special women who were our neighbours – their faces and names come back to me. All of them with due respect were an ‘Aunty’ to me; it could not be otherwise. Wonderful women who also felt duty-bound ‘to complain’ to my mother that they saw me jumping on rooftops trying to catch a fallen kite or about some other prank! These good souls at the same time would most generously give me a share from the goodies they made.
Women have been my teachers in school, in University, in the Seminary. They were all great women (we have a school alumni ‘WhatsApp’ group and we often remember our extraordinary schoolteachers); some of my teachers were simply amazing. They gave of their best and made sure that we were educated in the complete sense of the word.
During my school and college days, I have had great women friends. Am still in touch with some of them. A few of them have done exceedingly well in life; some are grandmothers; and of course, all are in the ‘retirement’ or ‘semi-retirement’ – waiting for the ‘twilight years’. These friends have been so much part of my growth- just being there: warm, helpful, caring, thoughtful . We hardly see each other but the bonds have never been broken all these years.
In my religious and professional life, many women have enriched me. The deeply spiritual ones; the simple, unassuming ones; the kind, generous ones. When I think of them at this moment, face after face like a film reels through my mind; so many of them. Some simply outstanding ones, human rights defenders – who have taken courageous stands in the face of all odds; brave women who have stood up against the most powerful on behalf of the victims, vulnerable and poor. Women whose social activism and commitment to a cause, has made this world a better place. Women who have given and not counted the cost.
Over the years, I have been touched by several women who live in remote villages, in the filth and squalor of dehumanizing slums; by women who are refugees or have been forcibly displaced; by women who have been exploited and harassed, denigrated and excluded – just because they are women! Some of them struggle all the time to make both ends meet- with little or no choices in life. Many of them are women of strength, women of substance; their lives are full of hope, optimism and resilience. They are the anonymous women and unknowingly they have shaped my life too.
For a little over two years now, I have been engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) based in Beirut; we work in five countries of the MENA Region. Many of the refugees and the displaced we work with are women. The amazing dimension of our work is that a very large percentage of our staff both in the countries we work in and in the Regional office are women (hopefully tomorrow I will write another article about this). This stint in JRS has given me the unique opportunity of being in the midst of some wonderful women: their capacity to reach out, their sensitivity to others, their ability to work under pressure; their professionalism; their commitment to service. There is much I have learnt from them and I am still learning.
There have been and there are many other women in my life. I had not planned that these random thoughts would enter the realm of ‘categories’; they happened rather naturally! So obviously unintentionally, I would have left out several other ‘groups’. In my work, I have been helped and supported by many women. Today too, I am in touch and encounter wonderful women all the time!
Tonight I want to say a big THANKYOU to every woman in my life – those who have died, those who I am not in touch with, those who I have hurt, those who are far away, those who are close to me, and to every one of YOU ( hopefully this will reach some of you)!
THANKYOU for helping me grow towards becoming a better person, for your caring and sharing, for your struggles and suffering, for your sensitivity and sincerity, for your inspiration and guidance, for the joy, love, courage and peace you have given to me and to many others.
THANKYOU for all that you have meant and been to me!
THANKYOU for accompanying me in this journey of life!
THANKYOU for helping me touch the feminine face of God!
THANKYOU WONDER WOMAN!
*(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ has penned these personal reflections as a tribute to women for International Women’s Day 2018. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)