You are new to the world. Our hands have just touched, yours soft and damp from an ocean you still remember, mine grooved and furrowed by life lived. Your eyes have met mine, deep in wonder and recognition. Eyebrows drawn with angel’s breath across your forehead, secret words no one can yet read. I hold your head between my hands while minutes are endless and years are something that still haven’t happened to you.
I might not be there when your mouth, still toothless, forms the first words you’ll speak. Words that will give meaning to your world, be your friends and your tools. Words that will lift you up and reveal new truths to you, words that will bring tears and break hearts. The very first ones will bind yet another tie between you and she who once called me by the same name. The first time you say ‘mama’, I might not be there. But she will be.
When you hold a kitten in your hands and wonder what makes its fur so soft, I might not be there. The questions you ask, about where the stars go in the morning and what tears are made of, I won’t be the one to answer. But know that you will ask them, that there will be someone who can answer. Know that your curiosity has the right to be taken seriously.
I might not be there when the mirror sucks you in and you worry that you’re not enough. Not cool enough, pretty enough, good enough. Close your eyes for a moment then, just for a second, and listen to the other voices. The ones that tell the truth about you: you’re exactly the way you’re supposed to be. Your legs firmly rooted to the earth, your skin weathering sun and rain, your smile that never goes out of fashion. You have the right to wear whatever you want: the shortest skirts, the toughest boots, the frilliest lace. I might not be there when they tell you you’re “sending a message.” But your sisters who see you for who you are, they’ll be there. Listen to them, believe them when they say only you can define your own beauty.
I might not be there when they tell you what you “should.” Should study, should choose, should become. But others have been there before you. Women who did things completely contrary to what they ‘should’. Wore pants. Flew solo across oceans. Were arrested for the right to vote. Wrote books. Fought their way into universities. Spoke out about contraception and abortion. Ran marathons. Climbed mountains. Won Nobel prizes. I might not be there on the day you doubt yourself the most. But they’ll be there. Read about them, remember them, lean on them.
I might not be there when the mirror sucks you in and you worry that you’re not enough. Not cool enough, pretty enough, good enough
There will be jobs you don’t get. Effort that isn’t rewarded. Days when you think you’ll never get anywhere. I might not be there when you find out that the guy who does the same job as you, earns fifteen per cent more. But the woman who sits at the desk behind you, she who eats at the cafeteria table next to yours, she’ll be there. She who tries to make ends meet with an income that barely pays for food and rent, she’ll be there. Around you and behind you and before you are women who have formed unions, who have gone on strike and protested and fought for higher wages. I might not be there the day you cry tears of anger over the injustice. But they’ll be there. To dry your tears, take your hand, and walk with you.
I might not be there the day you have your heart broken. When he lies, cheats, breaks promises. When you’re standing there with the bleeding lip and the shattered dream. When you can’t believe it really happened. When the thought comes creeping: maybe it was your fault? Maybe it was you who provoked, you who did something wrong? If I’m not there to hold you, to dry the blood off your lips and insist that he is held accountable, then know that they’ll be there. The ones who have scars of their own and know that wounds can be healed. The ones who have weathered the storm and caught their breath. The ones who will help you open your mouth to say: “enough is enough”. The day everything collapses and you stumble and fall, they’ll be there. Let them catch you.
And the day you feel it, know it, let it surge through your body. The day you sing loud in the choir you’ve always been part of, and your heart beats in rhythm with three billion others. Three billion times the bear’s strength, the bird’s flight, the lion’s courage, and the elephant’s wisdom. When you lift your arms and know that together you hold half the sky. That you are strong, you are beautiful, you are teachers and mothers and dancers and presidents. You will break rules and make new ones. You will confront bullshit. You will dance and work and lead and laugh. I might not be there that day. But through you, I’ll be there. We’ll both be there, along with all the women who have helped and loved and fought and bled their way there.
You, precious new life in this world. You, beloved granddaughter. I won’t be there for all of your days. But because you’ve always existed, in the hope and the yearning of all mothers, my heart is calm. Half the earth is here to watch over you.
Anne Ostby is a Norwegian journalist and writer, currently residing in Pakistan. She has lived in nine different countries over the last 33 years; her writing frequently exploring encounters between cultures. She has published 12 books for children, young adults, and adults. Anne has also been involved in women’s projects and initiatives all over the globe, her writing often depicting women’s lives and struggles in various cultural settings.
Photo credit: Pica Cordoba
Kirin Chaudhari is a freelance artist who graduated from NCA Lahore in 2013. She works with charcoal as her choice of medium and uses charcoal washes to build up layers. In describing charcoal as a fascinating expressive medium, she finds that it most freely depicts the subjects’ softness and presence of space. Kirin enjoys working with large scale drawings and lives between Lahore and Dubai.