"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings
and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting
for this moment to arise..."
We'd been friends and colleagues. We loved music and coffeehouses, Joni Mitchell and anyone singing "Blackbird." It was our song.
I'd sat knee-to-knee with her in faculty senate meetings. I'd listened to her ideas on countless conference calls, and we'd enjoyed talking mission and vision in the company of colleagues with opposing points of view. I'd helped her with curriculum planning. She'd helped me with tenure, promotions, and appointments decisions. The goal was a better institution, not to be better than one another. Ten-year plans and organizational strategies were our favorite board games. I trusted her. I respected her. And in the blink of a moment, our relationship was gone.
As our career paths had crossed, converged, and diverged over the years, we'd each had opportunities and disappointments, successes and setbacks. We were each other's shoulder to cry on, and biggest fan. That was, until one of us broke through a glass ceiling of sorts, and became the other's "boss."
I'd never felt more misunderstood and alone. Navigating this new territory was terrifying. No matter what I said it was taken as a slight. No matter what she said, it felt like an attack. Our mutual friends were traumatized, our families were confused, and our hearts were breaking.
The funny thing was, I now know that we were both praying…humbly, meekly, importunately. And we were both hearing our “angels” (God’s thoughts passing to man, spiritual intuitions – pure and perfect) but, in our own, personal angel-inhabited versions of heaven, we were, each, the only one who could possibly be right…leaving us both alone. She stole my voice, I undermined her vision, which of us had more authority, “who’s on first” …and on, and on it went, until we found ourselves avoiding department meetings if we thought we’d run into eachother.
Then one night I was sitting in my office, long after the cleaning crew had come through, and I heard sobbing from the other end of the hall. I wondered if it might have been a graduate assistant with boyfriend troubles, and decided to offer my sage twenty-something counsel.
I got up from my desk, headed towards the "bullpen" at the far end of the hall where staff assistants and student interns, had their desks.
But the sound of crying became fainter with each footstep. So I turned and headed back toward "our" end of the hall, where private offices lined the corridor. As I passed my own office and continued further away from the bullpen, the weeping got louder until I was standing in front of my friend's office. It was obvious. She was in deep emotional pain. These were not frustrated, angry tears, this was the sound of a broken heart.
I didn't have to know if I was at the core of her heartbreak, just the thought that I might be, was more than enough. Tears flooded my eyes and washed the darkly imagined personal sense script of hurt, and ego-centric "me-vs.-thee" thinking from my heart. The compassion I immediately felt for my friend...in that moment...was like light radiating from within. A laser-like Love that cut through mis-understanding with the only kind of "understanding" that ever really matters...an understanding heart.
It didn't matter who was "boss." It didn't matter which of us had a better working understanding of the lives of early women thought-pioneers, or a more scholarly understanding of the importance of suffrage, or who understood the history of feminism or spiritual texts that honored the divine feminine. The only understanding that really mattered was our sisterhood, our compassion for one another. The only thing that would make a difference was an understanding of where someone else might be coming from, what they might be going through, and how they might be feeling. The understanding that mattered was the kind that was synonymous with compassion, not intellectual achievement or scholarship.
In that moment of compassion, divine Love pierced the membrane of self, and deflated the ego.
I tiptoed away from my colleague's door and back towards my own office where I picked up the phone and called her at her desk. I somehow knew that if my own ego-hardened heart could be spiritually re-booted, perhaps so could hers. I can now see that we'd both been hoodwinked by "the ego," and we were discovering that it was time to kick it out of our relationship...together.
When she answer softly...probably having seen my office extension displayed on her phone console, I told her I'd noticed the light under her office door and wondered if she wanted a cup of tea and some of the girl scout cookies I'd brought in that morning. I knew I was on sacred ground, we shared a great love for Thin Mints...and eachother.
Within ten minutes, we'd started over...tea, chocolate cookies...and understanding. We were not two isolated blackbirds singing in the dead of night...alone and broken. We were women, sisters, friends...waiting for "this moment to arrive" like an updraft, a thermal of Love, lifting us above competition, hierarchy, comparison, and the insidious invitation to jockey for position. We were beyond glass ceilings...we were soaring in the space of Love's genderless sky where all sing...where all sweep, and glide, and speak, and dance in Pneuma's ever-equalized, rarified spiritual enviroment. No drop in pressure, no ozone layers of pride and selfishness, no toxic envy or arrogance....just Love.
We would go on to celebrate eachother's victories, encourage one another to dream very special dreams...even after we ceased to have offices on the same hall...make big differences, in an even bigger world, and pledge to never stand on the shoulders of another woman, but link arms with our fellow sisters and rise together on that updraft of spiritual compassion and love...to bring other women higher with us as we learned to fly.
I am so grateful for the sisterhood of sweet-throated blackbirds...sharing a thermal is the best way to travel!!
Kate Robertson, CS