By Emily Erickson
I’m always surprised by the emotions that whirl around the Women’s March, acquiring intricacies in passing through each attendee, speaker and canvasser, eventually settling right inside my chest.
This year was no different, with the little gym transforming from a middle-school sports arena into a collection of people shaped by their own experiences and perspectives, with unique reasons for being there.
In attendance were the gatekeepers — or the women directly responsible for organizing events, cultivating community, and championing women’s and human rights for decades. Also in the gym were the action-inspirers, or the people who create momentum in themselves and others from the sheer force of their will and strength of their convictions. They manned booths, passed out petitions and expressed their identities by having their “boots on the ground.” Finally, there were the supporters, a collection of people who came to listen, learn and find camaraderie in a cause.
As for me, there were many reasons to attend the Women’s March. I joined the event out of a sense of duty; as an expression of kinship and shared beliefs; and, mostly, to celebrate the women in my life who have shaped me — all of whom fit like puzzle pieces into my personality.
The first piece of my puzzle is, of course, my mom, Sue. Her shaping of me extended beyond the influence inherent in motherhood, like encouraging my love of pickles, my preference of books over TV and my independent spirit through a self-inflicted bowl hair cut. In addition to the skills, mannerisms and tastes naturally passed from mother to daughter, I learned to crave genuine connection with other people.
It wasn’t uncommon for my mom to follow up the colloquial, “How are you?” with, “Are you sure about that?,” encouraging people to push past social niceties and open up honestly about the state of their lives. She championed empathy and perspective, always considering people’s circumstances when confronted with their actions. My mom was a connoisseur of “heart-to-heart” conversations, hugged people because she meant it and would always make time to listen.
I don’t know what I’d be without her.
The next piece of my puzzle, to which any little sister can relate, is my big sister. Britt, six years my elder, embodied everything I wanted to be — my childhood being a blur of striving to keep up, but never quite being developed enough to do so. More profound than the age difference between Britt and me, however, was the fearlessness and untethered spirit that guided her; an attitude toward living by which I couldn’t help but be shaped.
Britt’s fearlessness was paired with my insatiable desire to keep up, resulting in regular confrontations with danger and boundary pushing. Yet, complementing the collection of scraped knees and stories we’d never tell mom, were the experiences from which I learned I was capable of so much more than I thought. Even today, Britt is a dis-regarder of convention, a pusher of limits (especially her own) and an example of how to live life fully, unhindered by fear. I don’t know who I’d be without her.
My next puzzle piece is a woman without a socially-recognized title, but to whom I owe more than I could ever put in words. Chrissy applied to be my caretaker just after my first birthday, a position she’d not only acquire, but hold on to well past her formal employment. From Chrissy, I learned the incredible impact of always showing up for people, even when they don’t ask you to.
Her showing up for me was both literal — attending every cross country meet, band concert, and weekend-long tournament — and also figurative, being a beacon of safety in the tumultuous environment that was adolescence, my parent’s divorce and a conflict-ridden upbringing. Chrissy is a pillar of support, the pinnacle of steadiness and the embodiment of giving care.
I don’t know where I’d be without her.
The remaining pieces of my puzzle are ever growing, with my not-quite-a-sister Gwen demonstrating that “family” is not contingent on blood; Sara, that the best things in life are often ones you could never foresee; Mara, that laughter can solve almost any problem; Cinda, that goofiness is a virtue; Sara, that adventure is everywhere; Katie, that dreams are for the taking; and Jamie, that caring for yourself is as important as caring for others.
I’m so grateful for the women in my life and the ones I haven’t met yet, all of whom inspire me, support me and will perpetually shape me.
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