July 21st, 2016 | Posted by Barbara Belknap in Gather the Women

Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy

Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy

A few days ago, I was at the store and had just finished paying for my groceries when a woman came over and said, “Barbara! I would have recognized you anywhere!” Noting my obvious lack of recognition, she said, “I’m Betty (something – was it Gomez?), you and I met in Anchorage in the 90’s when we were both at that big gathering of women. I’m in town for a meeting, and I just wanted to say a quick hello!” She gave me a hug, and off she went.

As I pushed the loaded cart out of the store, I racked my brains trying to remember her. No luck. On the way home, I proceeded to bemoan my faulty memory. She remembered me, but I didn’t remember her. Feeling bad, I let guilt push out compassion for myself.

When I got home and started putting the groceries away, I thought how ridiculous it was to make myself feel bad over this chance encounter. It’s a nasty habit I have perfected over the past couple of years. My brain’s not working like it used to. I forget stuff. No matter that most post-menopausal women joke about their brain morphing into a sieve, I still feel guilty and think my poor memory is worse and it’s my fault somehow.

This blog is going to be my therapy session.

I’ve met hundreds of women in Alaska. I was a co-founder and the Web Goddess for the Alaska Women’s Network, a website-based non-profit to connect women across our vast state. Facebook has made the website passé, but I loved meeting members of the Network in person on my business trips as the Executive Director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). They would exclaim, “You’re Barbara Belknap? You’re the Web Goddess!” Fishermen nearby would glance over quizzically. I had two lives. I resigned In 2002 after a bout with ovarian cancer, and began a new life A.S. (After Seafood).

Through Gather the Women, I’ve met hundreds of women since my first GTW circle in the early 1990’s. It is always such a joy to be greeted with warm hugs at the annual gatherings! Every year, I see my dear friends and get to meet incredible women from the local area.

A little over three years ago, I got sick. (I mentioned this in my March blog.) It took quite a while to get a diagnosis, but it is arthritis in my ribs and my neck bones. Its formal name is Costochondritis and it hurts. GTW being what it is, the women understand that I just can’t do what I used to do. No guilt. Just love.

The latest very tough personal loss was the need to resign from the PFLAG Juneau Pride Chorus. Founded in the early 1980’s, it’s the only gay chorus of any kind in Alaska. They welcome straight allies and I joined in 2002 after I took early retirement from ASMI. My sister had come out as gay so I had a new personal interest in the LGBTQ community. I certainly support gay rights and I do love to sing. Singing with the chorus was one of the few activities where I absolutely had to be focused 100% on the present. Nobody wants to let down their section (I was an Alto I) or get “the look” from the Director!

By the time the season ended in April 2015, I knew I simply could not do it anymore. They let me sit instead of stand, but that felt weird. For the first time in my life, singing caused pain instead of joy. The Managers insisted that I still keep up the Juneau Pride Chorus Facebook. I post articles about the LGBTQ community, their rights, their travails, and their victories. It’s a poor substitute for singing with everyone, but just as Gather the Women did, the Chorus found a way to help me stay connected because they are kind and compassionate. No guilt. Just love. That’s precisely what I must offer to myself!

Gather the women. Save the world.

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