AFTER A WHILE (Veronica Shoftshall, 1971)
After a while you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t always mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept
with your head up
and your eyes ahead
with the grace of woman,
not the grief of a child
And you learn to build
all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground
is too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way
of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.
And you learn
that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn…
I read the poem twice… and then once more.
What did it mean, I wondered, “to hold your head up, with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child?”
I know what it doesn’t mean!
It doesn’t mean that you do not hurt.
It doesn’t mean that there aren’t’ memories that make you cringe and double over in pain.
It doesn’t mean that the wounds do not bleed every time you see the person who caused the hurt.
But it means that you are a woman.
It means that unlike a man who grows a beard, gets sloshed and doesn’t turn up for work for a month, you hold on.
It means that you smile at the world and move on taking one step at a time, clutching on to whatever your hands touch.
It means that you wring feelings as they come up, because you cannot afford to let them take over.
It means that even when your ship is sinking, you can’t let go of the others lugged onto yours.
It means that you are kind to your family and children and not let them know or guess. What have they to do with your feelings after all?
It means that you listen to your friend talking about the guy she just met and may fall in love with and not let your negativity affect her.
It means that you nod sweetly at sympathizers and opportunists as you pray them away.
It means that you do not indulge in self-pity and do not have time to think of revenge.
It means that you face life head on and keep your mask firmly fixed in place.
It means that you hold your head high and pretend it doesn’t matter, when all you want is to be held and loved.
It means that you look into the future and know that the pain will become less as time goes by, and you know that because you have been hurt before and may be again in the future.
And as a woman you do all this for yourself, for your family, for your position and for society at the cost of a piece of your heart and your soul, which forever dies, never to see the light again.
And when you have done it all, forgiven not forgotten and picked up all the broken pieces while cutting your fingers with it and have to all together, THEN you have the grace of a woman.