I think until recently I have spent most of my life very selfishly. So concerned with being able to do what I wanted, finding out what I needed out of life, wanting to be happy for me. College was no exception. In fact, my selfishness was fed by living on my own, always working and studying. I did good things with my time but I did it mainly for the benefit of myself.
In a class I took, we were discussing the women’s suffrage movement. We read and talked and in the end, watched a film. It was heart-wrenching and inspiring. I learned how they suffered, sacrificed, and endured; how many years, generations fought for the right to have a say in the world. At the end, my professor posed a question:
What in your life is worth all of this sacrifice?
What would you give everything for?
The images of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and the other women who had fought so hard for something they believed in with their whole hearts lingered in my mind. I could not stop thinking of those questions that my professor had asked. What meant enough to me that I would go to prison, refusing to eat, and then being force fed just to be heard? To stand up for what I believed and felt?
I knew that I cared a great deal about women and women’s rights but would I give everything for that? Of course my family and good friends were on that list of who/what I would sacrifice for but was that all? Could that really be all I truly cared for?
These questions did not leave me for a long time. I spent a great deal of time rereading and rewatching, studying and thinking about Alice and Lucy and what they did. It was then that I truly realized the things that mattered most to me. My family, friends, my faith and my relationship to God. Eventually I would put all my personal goals and aspirations on hold for a year and a half, leave my family, friends, my style, music, and hobbies to go to a different country, learn a new language, and share the things that I hold most dear with people who didn’t always treat me kindly.
It was the first true sacrifice I had ever made. It was the first time I had truly been unselfish. And it was the first time I felt I could become a person who could actually have a positive impact on the world around me.
Those women did great deeds in pushing the suffrage movement along. But their contribution goes much deeper. They help us become good, contributing citizens. They help us find what really matters to us. They help shape us.
In honor of Women's History Month, tell us: who are the women who have helped shape you?
(Left-Lucy Burns and Right-Alice Paul)