Celebrating the feminine

Mother's Day: a day to celebrate the nurturing and feminine presence of women who bring life into the world. A U.S. tradition as sacred as the American flag and apple pie, everyone has a mother, or a mother figure, for whom the day conjures warmth and a sense of gratitude.

With all the problems facing the world, the ongoing war in Iraq, the assault on Medicaid funding for the disabled and poor women and children and the reckless re-opening of forests for logging despite continuing evidence of global warming, I wonder whether we might take some cues from the women in our homes, work places and leadership positions.

In office

Seattle is known as a place where women get the job done. Prior to the 2003 election, five women sat on the Seattle City Council. We've re-elected Patty Murray, the mom in tennis shoes, twice to the Senate and provided the margin of victory for Maria Cantwell to take the second Senate seat in 2000. King County also assured Christine Gregoire's victory in the 2004 gubernatorial race and continues to re-elect women like Pat Thibadeau, Helen Sommers and Sharon Tomiko Santos to the state Legislature. Statewide, a number of women, from Lisa Brown to Lynn Kessler, Val Stevens to Pam Roach, represent their constituencies.

I am ready to acknowledge that traits often inherent in women are traits we desperately need to adopt into our body politic. For instance, since arriving in Seattle almost 20 years ago, I've admired this town as a cooperative place, very unlike the competitive New York or Washington, D.C. Locals, often transplants from larger cities, complain about the "Seattle way," the interminable process built into the way the city does business.

I think this process, allowing different voices their say and weighing alternative proposals before finalizing a decision, is a great strength. A sign that this town is comfortable with the art of compromise and unwilling to allow coercive forces to ram unpopular decisions down the public's throat (note: this is not the case with the two stadiums built to replace the Kingdome!). Seattleites have a strong desire to question convention and challenge authority.

And if open dissent results, we take to the streets.

For reason

On the eves of the Persian Gulf and Iraq wars, I remember how proud I felt to march down Madison Avenue from St. James Cathedral to St. Mark's with a band of like-minded citizens, giving voice against our country's impetuous rush to battle, especially in Iraq, a country that while disreputable became a scapegoat for our country's eagerness to prosecute the war on terror.

The buildup of evidence turned out to be manufactured lies to scare the American people into supporting the invasion of a country with strategic significance. Seattle stood for reason and strove for peace at a time when our country's macho fervor ran unabated.

Seattle also demonstrates a comfort with its feminine side in its healthy embrace of sexuality and gay rights. When I arrived from my hometown of Cleveland, where growing up I observed the vilification of gays and "the gay lifestyle," I discovered an open, progressive metropolitan area that allowed me to "be who I am," and didn't cast judgement or openly ridicule me. Isolated examples of gay bashing still occur, but they are rare and don't reflect the accepting attitudes of most Seattleites.

City influence

The war and gay rights are just two examples of how Seattle's comfort with its yin enlightens and influences it politics. We can see our treatment of the environment as a sign of respect toward Mother Nature, whether in the preservation or replanting of trees, or in our seeking alternative sources of fuel, power and transport. The large number of social workers, massage therapists and yoga practitioners who call Seattle home reflects a people drawn toward work that heals and nurtures mind, body and soul.

In an era when leaders like George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI are trying to quash dissent and re-enforce systems of patriarchy, Seattle rises up as a center of the free speech movement with a strong, literate population, newly dedicated libraries and an active polity. Organized religion, while weaker here than many areas of the country, recognizes the need to reach out and seek common accord among denominations and engage communities in the values debates of our time.

A practicing Catholic, six years ago I took a vow of non-violence with other members of my parish, renewing the Gospel's call to seek peaceful means of resolution and work toward a more non-violent society. This decision, a turning point, made a strong impact on my life and forced me to evaluate my daily actions and whether these actions wrought violence in any shape or form on those with whom I came in contact. My decision also influenced my entertainment choices and forced me to examine whetherbusinesses I supported cared about contributing to the welfare of the community.

This call to non-violence also inspired me to live more consciously in other ways - practicing qualities of empathy, compassion and acceptance. Very difficult considering that remnants of my Catholic upbringing at times still rear their ugly, judgmental head.

Over time I've recognized that despite the consternation my mother, a devout Catholic, suffered over my homosexuality, by her example I learned the spirit of cooperation, the magic of teamwork, the gift of compassion and the beauty of honest, expressed feelings. Upon her death several years ago, I began to cherish this legacy she gave me.

In her prime, Mom exhibited a gentle femininity, a spirit of fun and adventure with more serious commitments to volunteerism and an unwavering devotion to her faith, which only grew stronger as she aged. In the 1930s she played in a girl's softball league. In the 1970s she continued in her love of tennis and golf, while teaching me how to cross country ski. I never viewed her as a feminist. But her can-do spirit left a lasting imprint on my heart and soul and a respect for women.

So in this merry old month of May, while turmoil and conflict continue to brew about preserving old ways or accepting change, when it seems like the ghosts of Vietnam and the challenges of the civil rights movement reassert themselves with striking familiarity, I'd like to raise a toast to mothers and all women who seek to nurture and leave the world a better place, whether through raising loving children, or through volunteerism or activism.

May the men of this world learn through your example to work together without ego and conceit, to engage in healthy debate that leads to concrete, fair solutions to vexing problems at the local and national level. May we learn to embrace our yin, reject violent and prejudicial attitudes, and find our peace and humanity in conciliation with ourselves and global society. The future of democracy and Planet Earth depends on it!

Jack Hilovsky lives on Capitol Hill and can be reached at editor@capitol hilltimes.com.

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