For those of you who don’t know, which I’m sure are many, I am spending the summer in Portland, Oregon. I arrived about two and a half weeks ago for an internship and I absolutely love it. Every day I bike to work, it’s a good 8 miles each way. There’s a cemetery that I must bike through at the beginning of my trip on the way to work. The cemetery is sprawled out on a giant hill, the slope so steep it’s necessary for the bike trail to switchback down the incline. The graves at the entrance of the cemetery are newer, the heavy rains of the northwest have not yet worn away the engravings etched on the tombstones and there are few trees here to shade them from view. But as you enter the heart of the graveyard, the age of this old piece of land begins to show. The lush evergreens are pulled to the sky, so high that it becomes impossible to even attempt to calculate their age. Once you have passed through their opening it becomes night again, their massive leaves blocking out the sun. The writing on few tombstones here is legible, their surface eroded smooth caused by the years of beating rain. Moss wraps itself around these pieces of cold stone, using element to shield from element. A few mausoleums are scatted through the trail, serving as mansions for the dead. Images of decrepit beauty whip past me until I am spit out into the world of the living. It’s beautiful.
Although this place is enchating, the hill is a monster to get up. One of the days my first week here I decided to walk my bike up. Something about riding 16 miles for the past four days was wearing me out. I found a shortcut up the hill and decided to take it. I didn’t realize that it actually lead over some graves so I was stuck having to walk my bike on some tombstones, which was creepy. But I passed this tombstone which read:
“Abigail, wife of Henry Watson”
This is probably one of the worst epithets I have ever seen in my life. It made me wonder what I would want on my tombstone, if I ever got one. Maybe I would want something like “Tamara the lion-hearted” or “Defender of the universe.” I would even settle with a good Oscar Wilde quote. But I would at the very least like to be identified as more than just the wife of some other person. Call me selfish, but I don’t think it’s unfair to be the center point of your own tombstone.
But perhaps that was Abigail’s greatest accomplishment, the one she herself was most proud of. Sometimes I feel as though I am so aware of the pressures we as women face that it could almost have a negative effect. The idea of only aspiring to motherhood almost sickens me, when I’m not sure that it should. When I hear women talk about how all they want from life is to have a family, I silently scoff to myself and think about how sad that is. How could you not want something more, to reach your fullest potential? But why should that be a bad thing? Why is being an awesome mother not acheiving your highest potential? Are we not biologically predestined to want to raise and nurture a family? So how does one balance this empowerment with biology?