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The Unseen Whole: Women and the Shape of the World

This International Women’s Day, I found myself reflecting on what it truly means to be a woman. There is strength, yes, but also unseen burdens.  On the one hand, I wrote about struggles for equality that are all too familiar. On the other,  I fixated on an apple – its simple perfection and the profound cycles it represents. Somehow, both pieces feel connected, reminding us that like the apple, women contain hidden complexities and a power that shapes the world.

The plight of women

If asked if I had improved the plight of women, I’d say: not enough.  We only know what we’re exposed to, the words spoken in the light and the dark, the (hushed) expectations. We are bound by invisible rules, shaped by words spoken and unspoken, by expectations that cling like shadows. Until those are challenged, things simply are the way they should be. And after all, there was no gender in the Filipino language – only the inclusive ikaw, ako, siya, sila. No he, nor she. Or so I thought.

I do not even know why I remember this or if I remember it right.  I was young, maybe 4 or 5. An uncle casually remarked to my mother, “When she grows up, she’ll just get married.” It was a careless sort of remark, something that one would normally let pass; it did not mean anything. But somehow, I grew red in the face as I understood the unspoken – I was a liability – a daughter – and time or education or money should not be spent on me because I will end up the chattel of someone, a man. That realization upset me, even as I lacked the words to understand why.

As I forged (foraged) through life, I’d like to think I stayed neutral, cheering for both teams.  Both sexes have so much to give. Men have surgeon-like precision in decision-making, cunning in their planning (with their maps and battleships), and their take-charge attitude could sometimes be welcome. Women have their empathy, their capacity to see the entire picture, even the invisible parts. They could be kind, gentle, pliant, and loving. Men struggle with being those most of the time.

And yet, there were moments when my femaleness felt limited and limiting.  Struggles fought, the blood and tears cried, just to reach a point – a lawyer in a male-dominated profession – that many take for granted. This ability to endure is a testament to those who came before and those who will come after. I am fortunate that I work with amazing women, continue to mentor women, and gave birth to a beautiful girl. Though missing the Y chromosome, my mind’s eye sees both worlds. And in Canada, I dare to dream that those worlds might one day truly be equal.

In contemplation of an apple

I embarked on a Henry Sugar-esque journey where I concentrated on one thing and one thing only, seeing if I could do it for 3.5 seconds (hold that thought-image in my head) for less than the 3 years it would take.

I chose an apple – because I thought I could contemplate and forge its mental picture without inaccuracies or embellishments that I would probably do with, say, birds. I know an apple outside-in and inside-out, can turn it in my head, this way and that. I have beheld it and held it in my hands for quite some time and for all my life that I could not – perhaps, probably – err in its depiction in my mind.

After all, I only had to have an image, a solitary image, in this a solitary (mental) journey, depicting in my mind something that is one-dimensional (or maybe two). I thought I had nothing to worry about and perhaps I would veer off my thought, as I often do, and jump to another.

But for some reason, I started to twirl the apple and at once felt its smooth red-nakedness with my eyes. There were spots, some yellows blending into more reds but a red that is not solid but cascading, blending, until it becomes red-but-not-fully-red.

It had a sheen to it – pectin – which (I thought) gave it its reddish waxy hue, the skin (as thick as a nail) protecting it, enveloping it, giving it its shape and form. I saw myself piercing that skin and it was hard. It would take a knife, and that one blow could ring, and slowly (but not noticeably), the edges would darken, and the brown hue would spread until it has taken over, more or less, the whole.

I looked at it from the top down. I looked at the stem which protruded from it (closely), and from which it protruded, hanging in a balance (but not twirling, or attempting to fall) in my mind’s eye. It was eye level, the apple, the way Henry Sugar did with his candle flame. Oddly, the stem had non-serrated smooth edges, but I sensed its separation from the whole of the apple tree was violent and unwanted. If it had a choice, it would remain suspended, with the tree, within the embrace of the tree. I went down to where the stem met the body, yes inside, the plump juiciness of it, creating a barrier – stopping me from getting to its core. I imagined the many droplets of water that it caught, like an umbrella (upside down), that plump flesh, and the water that gave it its shape and wholeness… but how?

I then went in, cut it in half, and got to where the seeds were, to where the seeds burrowed leaving a seed-shaped empty space. It was there that I realized it was complete – the seed. It contained the perfect wholeness of the apple – from what it is, its stages, to where and how it would be. It had what I call the plan, the intelligent architecture that was built into it, even when it did not yet exist, it was all in the germ of the seed. And I saw other seeds, other possibilities of other apple trees growing from it, and other apples falling from it, but before the end – catching the many millions of droplets of rain – only to be ravaged, eaten, discarded, or grown into a new sapling/tree.

I looked at its bottom, where the tufts of leftover bark or leaves are, snugly taking in the shape, enabling it to sit or stand or whatever it is that apples do. It was maybe – dimpled and it was perfect.

As I was looking at it, the seed sprouted apples and then seeds, and the seeds sprouted a bark and a tree, the leaves waxy, a sign of what’s to come, and pregnant with fruit, it drops each and everyone (it is time). The earth meets it with a loud thud.

There the apples lay bruised, the bruise turning darker, browner, until the sugar was overpowered by something ancient, and the malignancy consumed the whole. The soil consumes the apple, ushering it back to the land, to what it once was, primordial and free.

This seemingly simple object, the apple, contains both the wholeness of creation and the relentless march of time.  And yet, how often do we truly see it, and contemplate it beyond the ordinary?

Perhaps this is where the plight of women connects.  We are seen, judged on the surface, our complexities, our potential seeds of knowledge, dismissed as easily as fruit on display. Yet, within any one of us is a universe, a constant cycle of creation and return that shapes the world, seen or unseen.

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Melissa has 8+ years of combined Commercial, Business and Contract Law experience as In-House Counsel in manufacturing, health, real estate development, and broadcast communication industries. She is instrumental in developing strategies to minimize legal risk and ensure regulatory compliance.

She has 6+ years of Human Resources Management experience and a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) designation. Her practice includes Family Law, Civil Litigation, Wills & Estates and Real Estate & Conveyancing.

For fun, she visits ancient sites and ruins and belts out popular Broadway tunes.

northam law corporation

Northam Law is a boutique law firm offering advisory services in Real Estate Law and Conveyancing, Business Law, and Human Resources. Our practice areas also include Wills & Estates and Family Law. Notarization services are also available.

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