A Feminist "If"
A Feminist "If"
Provoked by this challenge to meet disappointment with more equanimity, I went back to read the source in its entirety. What struck me in this reading of Kipling's poem "If" was its stiff-upper-lipness, its strong urging that we use our will to manage the pain of life. What I noticed was its reliance both on consciousness and on conventional masculinity. I could hear the tough guy-ness of his advice.
Startled in particular by the assertion of the last line, that this is
how a son can become a man, I set myself the task of writing an
alternative, feminist "If," intended for both daughters and sons. I was
looking to describe a life well lived, not by defending against emotion
or its expression, but by being open to the leadings of the unconscious. I'm after a way of
living that replaces Kipling's rather imperialist-sounding instructions
with something more tender: a vulnerability, a willingness to be
touched and changed by our encounters with the world within and without. Rather than a series of statements, it takes the form of questions.
And of course I welcome responses, suggestions, and further revisions.
A Feminist “If”
Can you keep your heart wide open
When all about you are closing theirs?
Can you trust yourself when all doubt you,
But make allowance for doubts and cares?
Can you wait and not be tired by waiting,
And being injured, don't hurt back?
Being talked about, don’t turn to baiting,
Hold friendship tightly, yet learn to tack ?
Can you dream--and not make dreams your mistress,
Can you think--and then revise that thought?
Can you meet with loss and not be listless,
Keep your temper when all’s come to naught?
Can you bear to hear what you have spoken
Twisted away from what you meant?
Or see what you’ve given your life to, broken,
And stoop and straighten what’s been bent?
Can you heap together all that matters,
And risk the whole on one coin toss?
See around you all in tatters,
Yet move beyond your pain and loss?
Can you gather life’s abundance
Without damage to the earth?
Use reason without redundance,
Without stinting joy or mirth?
Can you meet the day with expectation,
Yet not be discouraged when it falls short?
Can you greet the night without trepidation,
And welcome dreams of every sort?
Can you talk with others, yet hold your center,
Walk with others, yet keep your pace?
Know loving friends will hurt you, yet stay tender?
Then--may be--you’ll travel well through time and space.