We need new stories as women – or at least new meaning from the old ones; new ways of understanding the old tales so that we can rewrite our own in redemptive, powerful, and renegade-like ways.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.
—Hannah Arendt, German Political Theorist
This series is all about storytelling. It’s all about meaning. And it’s all about the meaning to be found in misinterpreted, misaligned, and misunderstood stories. Stories of women. I am inviting these women to speak. I am asking what might happen if we allowed their words and their perspective to change us. And I am choosing to believe that their stories are worth telling; that these are conversation worth having.
The Renegade ~
Noah’s Wife. Unamed. Unheard. But hardly silent.
Her husband’s story is legendary. He heard god tell him to build an ark. He built it. Two of every animal entered. A flood came. Everyone who was not on board drowned. And once god’s anger subsided, the waters receded. Noah (along with his wife and family) recreated life.
Flood stories have been crafted and told as a way to understand and explain evil in the world and “god’s” response to such. In Christianity, years have been spent searching for the actual ark, the actual place in which it finally came to rest and humanity, once again, lived in god’s favor under the promise and protection of a rainbow. Truth-be-told, I don’t care so much about that (or believe that such a place exists); rather, I’m curious about what we might learn and hear from the story of a woman who stood by Noah’s side as he followed the seemingly crazy instructions of his god.
I asked the question on Twitter and Facebook, “What comes to mind when you hear me say, ‘Noah’s Wife’? The flurry of responses was fascinating. Collated and condensed, these:
- ignored, invisible, overlooked, and emotionally abused
- patient, understanding, trusting, and faithful
- adventurous, persevering, a champion swimmer, and animal lover extraordinaire
What might she have said? Is it possible she might offer an entirely different perspective on not only her own story, but on the one we’ve been told about ourselves? I’m guessing you know my answer. Let’s hear hers.
The Conversation ~
No one’s asked me, really. Though Noah’s story (and mine by association) has been told in nearly every culture, my voice and opinion are not involved, included, or seemingly important. And really, as I’ve watched thousand of subsequent stories unfold throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that my experience is not that different from those that have flooded history ever since:
Countless stories untold. Countless women unnamed. Countless hearts unheard.
Do you ever feel that way?
You want her to keep talking, to tell her story. You’re not quite ready to talk of your own. Already she’s hit a nerve, dammit! Yes, your story sometimes feels untold. Yes, you often feel unnamed, anonymous, unnoticed. And of course you feel unheard. Even more, you can feel the flood of emotion within. Hold it back. Keep it at bay. No need to go there. It’s safer to just stay on dry land than to wade into those waters.
She’s sympathetic: a soft spot for dammed-up tears. She’s been there more times than she can count or remember.
I felt like a story was being written all around me but that I wasn’t anywhere close to holding the pen. I felt like things were spiraling out-of-control but that I had no way to slow them down, change the course, do much of anything to alter reality. The best I could do was make sure my family was safe; that details were considered he’d have never thought of.
So I worked. Hard. I kept busy. Constantly. And I was almost (though not quite) able to crowd out the questions, the fears, the emotions that were almost more than I could bear. The destruction of the world? Noah bought it. I’d have fought. I’d have bargained. I’d have resisted. And believe me, I did. But ultimately, my viewpoint did not supersede.
Both of you sit there quietly. Both of you understand this reality all too well: feeling like your opinions and perspectives – well-grounded and wise – are not taken into consideration. Her experience of such was not the first. Yours will not be the last. This is a story you share in common. This is a story that women have lived throughout time: a knowing that is silenced; maybe even drowned.
It used to bother me more than it does now. It’s not that I’ve accepted it. Not at all. Instead, I’ve learned to see and acknowledge a different story than has been told. One that’s older than time and endures any flood, any “act of god,” any man-made decision. ‘Want to hear that story? You’re its proof, you know. You’re it’s lineage. You’re telling it even now.
For as much time as you’ve spent throughout the years trying to make heads or tails of the incomprehensible in life: the wars, the disease, the death, and yes, even “acts of god,” you’ve not been able to do so. Could she really have a way of understanding and explaining these things?
She looks you squarely in the eye for no more than a moment. She understands. She knows. She hears and feels your unanswered questions; your longing for a story that makes sense.
I wish I could give you the answers you seek. There are none. And any attempts to provide or manufacture such just infuriate me. Believe me, my story is the perfect example of this need to rationalize, objectify, and explain away unexplainable truths! Seriously? To craft a flood as just-behavior of an angry god only perpetuates the craziness. No. I have no answers. No one does. What I do have is a story that is larger, more vast, and more powerful than these. And that makes all the difference.
As long as there are women, life will overcome death. Period.
It takes you but a second to realize she has no more to add. And one more second to realize no more need be said. This is the story that endures, that matters, that no one’s told you. As soon as you hear the words you realize your place in its plot. You do carry its lineage, just as she said. You are a woman. You carry the story. You tell the story. And you continue the story. Your life has overcome death(s). Big and small ones. And you, along with the millions of women who have gone before and those yet to come, will continue to tell it and live it. Period.
Something in you has shifted. You feel as though you are staring out over a vast, expansive, and pristine landscape. The sky is clear. And yes, in the distance you see it: just the hint of a rainbow. The hint of a promise. The hint of a story that makes sense. The hint of a promising story that is yours.
As long as there are women, life will overcome death. Period.
This post is the third in a series of RENEGADEconversations with women who deeply long to be heard, who have stories that have been at worst lost, at best poorly told. It is my deepest belief and strongest passion to enable conversation with them. For when we do, we think new thoughts and step into a more powerful life; we hear our own story and become our truest selves.
I hope you’ll continue the conversation. I hope you’ll tell a new and different story; the truest one you can.
Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives —the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change—truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
—Salman Rushdie, Novelist