Speak softly, and your heart will soften. I tell myself this so many mornings when I wake with memories of the day before, memories which make me cringe for how grumpy I was to family, shop assistants, my own self, and how often I let irritation stir my voice. I determine all over again to be quietly-spoken and gentle through the day. And some days I manage it. And some days I don't. And almost every day I forget that even peace needs to be balanced.
We went to an armed forces display. While we were waiting in a very long queue, soldiers in combat uniform came by to talk to people. I noticed two things. Firstly, there's not much more appealingly masculine than a soldier in fatigues. And secondly, almost all the people, especially the children, wanted to hold their rifles.
Our country is generally calm and peaceful; no one honest walks around with a concealed weapon; guns are not a big issue here. And yet, or perhaps because of this, everyone wanted to pose with the soldiers' guns for photographs. I was sickened to see preschoolers holding and stroking huge black rifles. But later, I realised that those guns represented something we need as much as peace, and that instinctively children honour - might, protection.
We need the feminine and the masculine. (I'm not wishing to be sexist when I use those terms, I only mean the principle of male/female energy such as we've considered them for thousands of years.)
Peace and protection.
Softness and strength.
Achieving that balance within society is not easy. Over the past few decades, women have attempted to shift the balance out of gender and into the individual, which is good, but in many cases the effort has failed as women simply become more masculine and men who strive for gentleness and "their feminine side" are mocked. I don't believe the issue should be genderised. I think we just have a long way to go before we can hold that balance.
Our Western religions don't help. The patriarchy of Christianity suppresses the sacred feminine - and new religions like Wicca, in response, diminish or suppress the sacred masculine.
And yet, I saw something else when I stood in that queue. It was a very long queue in very hot sunlight. Lots of parents were trying to keep their children peaceful and happy. Lots of mothers were holding small ones, speaking sternly to older ones; and lots of fathers were playing with the children, running around with them, crouching down to talk very quietly with them about their misbehaviours. In our queue, in those families I watched, a real life everyday balance resided in the parents' teamwork.
And then there was this one soldier. Dressed in fatigues, with cropped hair, dark sunglasses, and combat boots - he was the archetypal soldier. He stood at the top of a steep ramp, controlling the queue (a different, thankfully smaller queue this time.) At one point, a pregnant woman was edging her way carefully down the ramp, helping her young daughter. She had a second child, a little boy, who was one child too much for her under the circumstances. Standing at the top of the ramp, he was not safe. The young soldier picked this boy up, much to the child's delight (I watched his small, worshipful hand stroke the uniform's rank badge) and, settling him on his hip, carried him easily down the ramp.
I saw then the gentleness that can reside in protectiveness - the caring in strength. I resolved to keep that soldier in my heart as an example of how to improve my womanhood.
I will try to speak softly, to nurture peace in my home and my daily life. But I will also wear metaphorical combat boots so I can stand strong, calm, capable, and protect my family from the hazards of the world.