heart on fire

flaming heart

I had a one thousand dollar illegal abortion when I was nineteen, paid for by my older lover. Ten one hundred dollar bills in an envelope all facing in the same direction,  ten tight-lipped Ben Franklins staring out at me. I handed them over to the woman who picked me up at the Newark New Jersey airport and drove me to a brick apartment building where a man who did not make eye contact suctioned out my womb. It was the wrong time to have a baby, and while I didn’t regret the decision, I grieved the loss of my unborn child.

We fought for Roe v. Wade and when it was passed, it felt like the fragrant blossoming of a new world order.  I stayed on the east coast after college and helped write the first edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves; this was women’s work, my work, at its most fundamental… taking back from the patriarchy the control of our bodies.

Fast forward through the years: moving to California to study at the feet of a guru; seeing through the guru and reclaiming my sanity and my power; marrying and giving birth to my daughter. Holding support groups for older first-time moms, writing a book about our experience. Studying herbalism and homeopathy. Creating writing retreats for women, and a decade as a hospice social worker. But all the while a growing sense of unease. The religious right’s attacks on Planned Parenthood, and then emboldened, the murder and attempted murders of their doctors. But surely, I thought, sanity will prevail, people will come to their senses. When abortions are outlawed, women without access to an illegal one will use sterilized coat hangers, or throw themselves down stairs, or drink potions of a mishmash of herbs not guaranteed to be either safe or effective.

I wanted to practice seeing people through the eyes of unconditional love, the essence of the spiritual teachings I attempt to live by. I wanted to transmute my growing feminist outrage into a deeper understanding of what lies beneath the actions of the people I disagreed with. But the climate of fire and brimstone wrath towards women kept growing. Now several states are attempting to push through laws that will deny a woman the right to have an abortion after six weeks, a time when she herself may not yet know she’s pregnant.  Laws where women and healthcare providers can be prosecuted and sent to jail for seeking or providing abortions.

Ram Dass’ words: “Emotions are like waves. Watch them disappear in the distance on the vast calm ocean.”

My words: Are you serious? The ocean is raging, the sea is on fire and we are on fire too. Last week a nineteen- year- old woman in Bangladesh, Nusrat Jahan Rafi, was burned to death for reporting sexual harassment.

Rumi’s words: “Our greatest strength lies in the gentleness and tenderness of our heart.”

My words: No no no. Our greatest strength is in a take no prisoners manifesto, a burning away of the bullshit and lies and hypocrisy and punishment for being a woman with a rising up of the sisterhood, flames coming out of our nostrils, ready to slay the dragon before it slays us.

Tina Turner in her inspiring album Beyond: “Go beyond revenge.”

Me: Why should I when those motherfuckers want to kill me?

You see my dilemma. I don’t yet know how to reconcile the path of forgiveness, of unconditional love, with my outrage, with my grief for all the women who will be forced to seek illegal back alley abortions as I did, for those who will bleed to death on the floor, as many did. So here I am again. A feminist with her sword raised, this time on a different rung of the spiral, ready to love the world in all its broken beauty, still believing in the power of forgiveness and peace, but willing to marshal her courage to fight in the name of Life. Willing to hold accountable the men who still tell me I’m too sensitive when I challenge their assumptions about my competence and their entitlement, who still think rape jokes are funny, who want to stone us for daring to choose who we love, to jail us for claiming ownership of our bodies, to dress us in veils as if that could snuff out our light.

My heart is on fire. With love for the unspeakable beauty of nature, for the kindness and generosity  people still show each other, for all that is good and decent and knows right from wrong. I am weeping with rage and burning with love as I hold a vision of the new world we are dreaming into being, choice by choice, voice by voice. With courage.With love. With fire.

Tell me. What sets your heart on fire?

“These are burning times. And they call for Burning Women. Women embodied in their passion. Woman feeling in their bodies. Creative women. Courageous women. Women who have learned to run on a different power source to the world which is falling into flames around her. She has already disentangled herself from the wreckage of the patriarchal culture, so she will not be dazed, confused and disorientated by the systemic changes happening around her. Centred within herself, receptive to the Earth beyond her, she knows how to cultivate from the ashes, she knows how to find the embers to fuel the new fire.

Burning Women arise.
Our time is now.
Our time has come.”

― @lucyhpearce – Burning Woman

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power.
Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget… another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
Arundhati Roy


“The world is violent and mercurial – it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love – love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend.”  Tennessee Williams

candle flaming heart



7 thoughts on “heart on fire

  1. This woman on fire feels the utterly naked pain of the world and cannot grok its meaning. Beyond “why” and weary of making excuses for those who manifest incompetence. Enough! Sanity has become difficult to hold onto. Hope for understanding and 11th hour change of hearts toward Goodness and Grace.


  2. There are no answers. There is only what is presenting to us Now and responding with the wisdom we can harvest even shy of its full ripening. With profound curiosity. Without knowing what is “correct” nor if it will be effective. There is no standard to strive toward. There is only our own soul on fire in the typhoon.


  3. I agree with Tennessee Williams. Without drama, we carve our own niches by where we put ourselves in the scheme of things. There will always be radicals who attempt to rule us, to make us wrong. The world is violent & mercurial.


  4. Sorry to be so late coming to this wonderful and honest piece, Nancy. I applaud your heart of fire and bring my own to the fight…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s