The start of February marks the turning point of winter and depending on a weather prognosticating groundhog, we will either soldier on or be welcomed by the early buds of an early spring. Feb. 1st-2n encompasses a mash-up of holidays from St. Brigid’s Eve, the pagan festival of Imbolc, the Christian holiday of Candlemas and good old Groundhog Day. Flames, eternal and purifying, tie together many of these celebrations and I even add in for good measure, the life-affirming party that is Mardi Gras on Feb. 9th Despite the month starting off with a bang, I’ve been having flashbacks to the bleak winter of my 7th grade when hatred between girls was rising and there were no protectors. Harder times lay ahead for sure, but that one winter truly made me realize that I had the power to say no. It also taught me about the goddess Brigid and how to walk the line between grace and gumption.
No exaggeration, but my genuine desire at that time was to be a good Catholic, which I defined as being compassionate and accepting of all kinds. It was odd how the energy started to shift after I refused to participate in teasing the class brain. My best friend at the time had ingratiated herself with an entourage of nasty yet popular girls, who thought it was totally cool to ruin peoples’ lives. The tables turned quickly and soon I became the flavor du jour of bullying both physical and psychological. During recess instead of playing, I began volunteering in the nurse’s office and working in the cafeteria to avoid my ex best friend and her new friends who loved watching me crack under pressure. I do credit Catholic school for teaching me forgiveness, but the rhetoric of “turning the other cheek,” left me in a catatonic state of masochism where I simply took it and thought it would make me stronger. Since I spent most of my time in the library after being named a social outcast, I started reading about ancient goddesses and stumbled upon the triple powerhouse of Brigid, a Celtic Goddess and saint and was blown away by how her gifts of compassion, healing, metalworking, poetry and motherhood were celebrated. With her stoic gaze and sacred wells, Saint Brigid of Kildare along with her female only priestesses tending to an eternal flame were the kind of girlfriends I was longing for. The mythology of Brigid, along with my newly found confidante Sister Dorothy, a nun who provided counseling, taught me how to fight back and win with dignity. After a month of daily hate notes landing on my desk, Sister Dorothy said, “You know what they say, so why continue to read them?” She looked at me with the same steely eyes as the images of Brigid in my mind and I knew what I had to do. Later that afternoon, I returned from lunch and saw a scribbled note on my desk. With my palms sweating I stood up, staring straight at my bullies and ripped the note to shreds. I calmly walked to the garbage bin, feeling a kind of exhilaration that I had never experienced before. My bullies were stupefied and as soon as the class ended one girl frantically ran over to me asking why I didn’t read it. I said simply, “Why? I don’t care.” As I turned my heels and walked away I felt a surge of power rising within and I knew what gumption, a term my mother often used, truly meant.
For me, now as a woman, February is about tending to your internal and always eternal flame. The fire never extinguishes, but how does it best serve you? In situations where I need the courage of Brigid’s eternal flame I close my eyes and imagine it’s red-orange fire rising up, warming and healing my fearful body, transforming me from a child to a woman, full of strength and determination. Full of grace and gumption, indeed.
Previously published on Slutist