I’ve been thinking about Melinda Gates and her New York Times bestseller, “The Moment of Lift.” I’ve been thinking about women in community. I’ve been thinking about my friends Wendy Martin, Carrington Fox, and Lawrence Cook. Please join me in the Bacon Neighborhood today for a few reflections (including thoughts from my friend Lawrence)…
Let me begin with Wendy. Here’s a really short version of her life. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, she proceeded to grow up in a loving and prosperous family. Have you seen a photo of her as a young adult? Beauty became her. She graduated from Vanderbilt University, got married, and had five children. She went back to school after the kids were grown, earned a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and practiced in that area for the rest of her life. She served the community profoundly in other ways at Harpeth Hall School, The Next Door, and Christ Presbyterian Church. She passed away on September 6, 2019, and the very large church couldn’t comfortably hold all the people who came to remember her.
I last saw Wendy a few months ago with her family, all of us eating on the patio of a local restaurant. She asked me what I was reading, and I told her – an advance copy of “Late Migrations,” by Margaret Renkl. I had just finished it. And loved it so much.
“Yes!” she said. “Yes, I’d love that!”
It took me a few days to get it to her. I didn’t realize how sick she was. She read it; she loved it; she sent a copy to a daughter.
Wendy had a beautiful spirit, a beautiful energy. She helped solve problems. She lifted up the people around her. The community.
My friend Carrington Fox came to my house this week. She has three sons, in grades 8, 9, and 11, and she works at the Wills Company, a storied Nashville business specializing in home construction, maintenance, and repair. Carrington came by because I live in an old house and the roof above the front porch has been leaking. Bad things are happening up there. Expensive things. I stood in awe as she talked roofs and gutters with the young men doing the work.
Carrington had no special training or experience in construction as a young woman. She majored in Art History at Princeton and spent years majoring in motherhood and food writing at the Nashville Scene. A few years back, she went to construction school at Tennessee Tech and chronicled that experience at her blog, Build Me Up, Buttercup. (Her husband by the way ran for mayor of Nashville several years ago, which also gave her a project.)
Carrington has a beautiful spirit, a beautiful energy. She helps solve problems. She lifts up the people around her. The community.
My friend Lawrence Cook and I are in two book clubs together. We carpooled for years, and also we cooked for each other. When she made her family’s meal on Monday nights, she would double it and bring half to me. When I cooked for my family on Wednesday nights, I would double it and take half to her (#FoodFairy). Lawrence travels regularly – then, and now – in her work with Deloitte. But she never missed delivering a meal.
Lawrence has a beautiful spirit, a beautiful energy. She helps solve problems. She cooks! She lifts up the people around her. The community.
Lawrence is also one of the most principled and devoted feminists I know. I appreciate her perspective. Today she stops in at Bacon to share her thoughts on Melinda Gates’ “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Margaret Renkl read from “Late Migrations”. She read the entry about sitting in her father’s lap on the front stoop during a storm. She reminded me of just how much I love a summer storm.
We have had our share this summer. The pine tree out front has suffered the most (although our aging dog Lucky is a close second). The tree has lost several limbs, and after the first storm, a friend with a chainsaw offered to help us cut the large limb into pieces that we could carry. Before our friend could arrive, we lost a few more.
Today was the first day that we could tackle the debris due to the heat. One of the things I love about this friend is that she shares and even exceeds my feminist fervor, and we often discuss our challenges either in the workplace or with our families as we take on the 21st century fully liberated (yes, we did just celebrate 99 years of the 19th Amendment!). We still have much ground to cover to achieve a truly equal world.
But today, the chainsaw and the limbs became a symbol of our feminist struggles. As the saw broke, my husband had to support us with a YouTube chain repair video without running the chainsaw himself. We felt thwarted in achieving success. Yet we have been able to saw through the largest pieces, and I am here to say that success has been achieved – the limbs have been reduced to manageable sizes. The chainsaw will be repaired another day. Victory at last! Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift is something that inspired me during this endeavor as well.
Back in May, when Gates’ book tour was in full swing, I invited Jennifer and a few others to join me and hear the discussion between Ann Patchett and Gates. While I ended up on my own that night, it was well worth the investment of my time. I remember that we also had a spring storm that night. But the evening started with the Fisk Jubliee Singers, and between that and two inspiring women on stage, I felt like I was indulging myself. Gates’ discussion that night and the book itself did not disappoint and even taught an old-school feminist like me a few new things. Her presence and the warm rapport between Gates and Patchett made it feel like I was enjoying evening with old friends – friends who want to help “stir” the proverbial pot to bring about that moment of lift.
With the onslaught of spring, the end of the fiscal year at work and the end of the school year for my daughters, it took me a while to finally settle into reading The Moment of Lift. I have to confess that I felt bogged down at first by Gates’ honest description of her struggle with balancing personal choices, her own spirituality, and the needs that she sees in the world. Much of the first part of the book is about coming to terms with how her Catholic upbringing simply cannot override the basic need to empower mothers through family planning…
“When I talk to women in low-income countries, I see very little difference in what we women all want for ourselves and our children. We want our kids to be safe, to be healthy, to be happy, to do well in school, to fulfill their potential, and to grow up and have families and livelihoods of their own – and to love and be loved.”
If anyone else feels the same way that I did, I encourage you to KEEP reading. It is well worth it to learn more about the work that the Gates Foundation is doing and the process that Gates has been through as she helps drive the focus of the work that they do. Family planning actually enables women to space out their pregnancies so that they only have children that they can feed, and so that they have time to earn a living as well as care for their families.
For me, one of the most enlightening parts of the book for me was Chapter 5, “The Silent Inequality.” Gates references the work of Marilyn Waring who wrote “If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics” in 1988 in which she challenged how economists failed to recognize the work that women often do all by themselves – caring for children, chopping firewood, grinding grain, fetching water, cooking meals and washing clothes. This work, in 1988, was not typically counted as part of the work in an economy. It was unnoticed and uncounted because it was “free.” Even today, the mental energy that it takes to keep up with the family calendar, the time that is spent on dinner prep, or shopping or laundry is simply not factored into everyone’s idea of “work.”
Gates’ book brings to life the experiences of the women and men that she and the rest of the Foundation have encountered and have supported. She reminds us that we all need someone to lift us up every once in a while, and together, we can become that difference that we want to see in the world.
The pine tree debris is now awaiting Metro brush removal crews; the chainsaw will be repaired for the next time it is needed; and anyone who wants can borrow my copy of The Moment of Lift and be inspired too.