The universe has an interesting way of raising an existential tide around me through colliding events. A few weeks ago I attended a board retreat that, as usual, started with introductions. We were asked to pair up and tell each other a story that exemplified who we are. My partner was someone I barely knew, but had a wonderful story about defending and helping people as a lawyer and later a judge. For some reason when it was my turn I told him a story that I rarely share.
In 1985, way before the MeToo movement as a geologist I sued a major oil company for sexual harassment and discrimination. This was a brutal and terrifying experience. Over the next seven years they invaded my bank account, had me followed, deposed me for hours at a time, and did the same to my friends. I was listed in their personal file as Native American, which I am not, and was accused of being a witch. I reminded them that I was Jewish, which was why I always volunteered to work on websites on Easter and Christmas and asked to have Jewish holidays off, which they at times denied. They continued to send me out on well sites in unsafe vehicles and demanded that I drive back to Denver with no sleep. After seven years they offered a settlement that was reasonable, but not life changing.
During the suit several other professional women privately thanked me for taking on the many issues, including being called insulting names, asked to make coffee, take notes, make reservations for our supervisors, and being touched, pawed, propositioned, told how to dress, left out of meetings, and ranked lower than men. However, not one of them was willing to join me or even be seen with me for fear of retaliation. My suit resulted in many improvements for every professional woman in the company and opened the door for more to succeed.
I can tell this story without any emotional attachment, but for some reason that day I was filled with the pain of the journey. My partner’s reaction was profound. He told me that he respected my courage and commitment. He then shared this story with two other people and their eyes grew large with surprise and something that approached awe. I held back tears until the end of the day, when I let myself cry as I drove home, reliving the fear and pain, as well as the powerful response and praise I had just received.
They two days later there was a post on social media accusing all white cis-gendered women of being mean, cruel and the bane of women of color and everyone in the LBGTQIAT2S community. Here was the universe’s bookend that raised the existential tide around me. Have I actually lived a life that mattered, one that left the world a better place for having been here? Does it matter that I reported my main faculty while working on my PhD for gender bias, have taken in over a dozen people who needed a place to live, protected a trans faculty in the 90’s, protected a faculty at the risk of my job, and stood up to power in so many ways?
I am not sure of my next steps, but do I know there is more to my story, and more adventures on this journey, that strangers might judge unfairly. However, I know that I will always be a bridge crosser, a way-finder, who creates new paths into the wild while creating boundaries around my heart.
1 thought on “Existential Tide Pools, Part two”
Thank you for sharing this story. And for all you’ve done to stand up to injustice. You are a bright light and force for good.