on doing something for nothing

Today I spent a couple of hours in the company of women, and a couple of men, who work hard for the community they live in, they spend up to 30 hours a week, each supporting, advising, helping and no one gets paid anything.  This really made me think about the value we put on actions.

I spent my time helping them to understand and improve their work.  Look at that sentence.  I ‘spent’ my ‘time’ it says a lot.  It says that there are other things that can be spent rather than money.  It says that even if you don’t have money you are still valuable. It says that if no one is paying you, then you are responsible purely for your own time and effort.  You are doing whatever you are doing because you want to.  How powerful is that?

I was reminded of another life, in another decade when a group of young women decided to make a difference in their community.  Coming together to discuss what was necessary was the easy bit, getting the ‘men in suits’ to listen was quite a different matter.  Through sticking together, giving their time freely and working together gradually, little by little great things were achieved.  What did the men in suits do?  They employed each and every one of the women, gave them good jobs and in doing so removed their power.

When the women were unwaged they could and did do exactly what they needed and wanted to do.  When the venue for the meeting wasn’t allowed a creche, they took all the children anyway, it was no ones fault that the room they set the unofficial creche up in was also the meetings break out room for refreshments.  Men in suits come for their tea and biscuits, oh really, that milk was for tea and coffee, only the children were thirsty.  Biscuits?  what biscuits? the crumbs on the nice clean corporate carpet told their own story.  The next meeting at the same venue there was an organised creche with paid staff allowing all the women to participate in the meeting.

Once waged the women realised that they had to dance to the corporate tune, for a while this was fine because they were all in a position to improve things for other women, but the raw edge, the determination and the imagination were dulled ever so slightly, The passion was tarnished.  They started to think about what couldn’t be done, rather than what could be done.  Each of the women had a better personal life.  Once waged worries about money changed, to be replaced with a different type of worry. Cars were needed to get to workplaces, childcare had to be put into place.  For a while each woman stood taller, straighter and saw herself as a success in the world,  The monthly wage cheque was validation of their worth and was soon spent.  Time to spend together was limited, working, children and family committments took over.  Snatched phone conversations keep the links together but the excitement and trust they had had together was slipping every day.

Over time each of those women have all had successes.  They were promoted, went on to education, learned things and took their passions into ever more workplaces.  They found the ‘men in suits’ were still present only, and it took time to realise, they were now part of the same system.   Months became years and one by one the women bargained and negotiated what power they had once had for a better car more responsibility and a larger wage. At some point they stopped noticing the ‘men in suits’ and started using the same language they had once fought against.  Even sometimes they found themselves justifying and arguing against spending money on creches and other extras, forgetting how difficult participation truly is when you do not have a stake in the world.

In time the women grew older, and with age they had time to reflect on the value of their working life.  Some decided that it was now time to step away and to do things they were passionate about.  The children they had needed creche’s for way back then now had families of their own.  Now it is our time, they thought and we will spend it well, be that  knitting, drinking wine or volunteering.  With no monthly paycheque came a sort of freedom which felt ever so slightly familiar.

Once again the women considered what was worth fighting for, and believe me, three decades on, nothing is better than it was.  They began to remember the power of not being paid, their passion and their energy came back,  To be able to advocate and stand up for what is right, it was still there, the corporate line could be crossed.  Each of the women started to remember who exactly she was. How had they forgotten the feeling of freedom, freedom to challenge and to demand what is needed?

So now in a community group, in a campaigning meeting, in a school playground and in local politics, look around you. See if you can spot the women who have spent a life time fighting to be as good as the ‘men in suits’ and you will see the people who eventually worked it out.  The women who were told they could have it all, and almost collapsed trying to have any of it.

If you see one of these women make sure you listen to her, make sure you learn from her and most of all grab a bucketful of her passion and excitement.  You never know where it will take you.

Long lost family

I have loved the past six months, even the really sad times brought benefits, family coming together old friendships renewed and a chance to watch my amazing family support each other every step of the way.  One of the most interesting things that happened during this time was due to me having time to follow up research on my family tree where I found a message on my genealogy site. The message said that there was other family tree which included my paternal Grandfather. This was a surprise as Dad’s fathers family originated from Ireland and were the missing link in my family tree, I struggled to get beyond a couple of generations.  I began to research this new lead and found indeed that Granddad was included on another tree. I was able to send a message to the family and soon received a message back.

Messages were exchanged and we eventually spoke via the wonders of the internet.  She is across the world in Australia, yet it seems that her Grandmother and my Grandfather were actually brother and sister.  This was an amazing find, we have living cousins who we had not a clue existed.  More investigation proves that we all grew up within a couple of miles of each other each never knowing the others existed.  More conversations and emails sent, it  seems there are another two cousins still living in our home town, a meeting was arranged.

To find family you have no idea are alive is an amazing piece of luck. To then meet them and realise that it feels like we have always known each other was wonderful.  Swapping stories of shared history, finding out the real names of our ancestors and celebrating being a family, it was a very special afternoon.  It was a little odd to realise that not only are we closely related we actually have very similar faces, it seems my Dad’s family have created our smiles and our eyes, the likeness was acute. So much so my new cousin and I were taken to be sisters, on our first ever meeting.

We will probably never know why my Granddad stopped seeing his sister.  Despite living just 2 streets away from each other all their lives, neither ever spoke about the other.  Both sides of the family are close, family minded people, what mystery separated the siblings to such an extent that they never acknowledged the others existence?

So now we are lucky to have increased the people we can love in our family. Three new cousins, each with their own family for us to get to know, and we will.  Memories will be talked about, this time not just personal stories, but jigsaw pieces in the picture of another families story.  We shall fill a room with husbands, wives, children and grandchildren all with a shared history. We will bring together the generations and make sure they all know each other exist.  All this sixty plus years after our Grandparents died, within a year of each other and in the same town.  We also suspect strongly they are buried very close to each other as well.  We will raise a glass to family, to the future and together we will celebrate the shared past that enabled us all to smile in the same way.