Jan 18 2017

An Incredible Tribe of Women

I found my first grey hair the other day. But if I’m actually telling the truth I found it closer to a year ago. I convinced myself that it was just an exceptionally blonde hair, like one from my youth, and combined with the bad light in my bathroom, I semi believed it to be true. The first thing I did was text my friend with some scary emoji and question mark, she returned the favor but also added “welcome to the club, congrats on everything you accomplished that gave you that grey hair.” It was a time to both rejoice and mourn. I guess at this time in someone’s life is a great time for introspection and reflection. It’s left me with a lot of thoughts and ideas, but one thing keeps standing out: people are resilient creatures. Women, in particular, are resilient.
Where does that resilience come from? It comes from a place of necessity and, perhaps, it also comes from our nature as mothers and having that fighting instinct to do anything and everything to oppose destructing forces that seek to harm your children.
Yet … women are complex, too. We’re not all fit, strong, and confident all the time, despite how we often choose to present ourselves. Often times, we’re also insecure and horribly vulnerable, despite the impenetrable facade we would never ever dare to leave our homes without.

To be a woman is to be all of these things at once, and not even fully understand how that’s possible. Just accept it and go.
After being kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan, I was left feeling vulnerable in ways that I’m still trying to process. Nefarious forces suddenly lurked everywhere—nothing, nor anyone, could be trusted. I was always on guard—and deeply, truly scared. I found solace in hiding, in being closed. I dared not reach out to anyone in fear of getting hurt even more.

Yet on the surface, I was Beth Rodden, a “bold,” big wall trad climber at the height of her game.

Injury and a divorce snatched my climbing identity away from me, as suddenly as having a costume ripped off a performer, and it left me feeling naked and even more vulnerable. Questioning where to focus myself, who to surround myself with. I wanted to hide again, to be invisible.
Pregnancy was exciting but also nerve wracking — not being sure what that meant for my career, my body and my life.
Yet when I reflect on these past experiences, I’ve recently come to realize how they’ve catalyzed this incredible, awesome force in my life: the friendship, love, and support of other women.
For whatever reason, I don’t know if I’ve ever sought out, let alone appreciate, having other women in my life. I was always a tomboy growing up. I’d take a sports field over a doll house any day. I traditionally preferred climbing with men. And I always felt like I had more in common with members of the opposite sex.
What’s changed is I’ve realized that there’s another community out there—not better, just different—that has been there for me in the times of greatest vulnerability.
My divorce forced me to reach out to people, the scariest thing that I’ve done. To share my story, my feelings, and to take a leap that some might not reciprocate with the same openness and friendship, far more nerve wracking than leading a hard climb. I knew how to be brave on a granite slab, but not how to be brave by expressing my vulnerability to a potential new friend. At first I was terrified, but I tried anyway. With some people, it didn’t go well, which left me in tears and feeling even more alone and on the brink of defeat. But there were others who listened, who shared their stories, who were vulnerable back, and made me feel accepted, welcomed. It was something that was unfamiliar to me, something that softened the immense emotions I was feeling. Made me feel more human and “normal.”
I started to understand why women were a tribe. Why people cherished their girlfriends. I started to build my own, very slowly. I would open up to one, bring food to another, go for a hike or walk, send a text, give a call, slowly building the foundation for a supportive community, and eventually people I consider family.
Becoming a mom has expanded my family, yet also better defined it and made it stronger. Being a mom immediately puts you into a club with other moms, who share your experience. It’s like when you first become a climber.

I’m a climber.
I’m a mother.
These are things that no one can ever take away from you, and instantly make you a friend of everyone who shares that identity. And sometimes finding that first thing in common can be the biggest hurdle to cross.
I take courage and strength in knowing that my community—of women, of mothers, of climbers—is very strong. I know that from the past, from all the moments that stand out as examples of impossible compassion, open vulnerability, and unbreakable strength and love. These moments, to me, are what it means to be a woman—and to be a part of the tribe of women.
And when I reflect on all of these moments, and the outstanding women behind them, I know that together we’ll be able to handle things big and small. Through love, laughter and eventually loss. We will pull ourselves together, at anytime of the day and be there for one another. We will have open arms, hearts and doors. We will feed each other when we are down and run together when we are up.
So, to the women you can text in the middle of the night to complain about your swollen, red breast. To the ones who have broken hearts but who are not broken themselves. To the softness and acceptance of conversation with women. To the mothers who are sleepless, yet still make time to check in with you. To the women who know what it means to be criticized for their bodies without words, only looks. To all of us who have learned to see life as grey. To the ones who are always up for adventure. To the ones who are always up for a day inside. To the women and mothers I’ve never met but have had the courage to reach out to me on this blog. To the ones who are moms; who want to be moms, but aren’t yet; who want to be moms, but can’t. To the women who are confident and fearless in public, but who are vulnerable and open in person. To the ones who always show up with food. To the women who hold you up when you need strength, and to the ones that are brave enough to ask for it in return. To the ones that will ebb and flow in and out of tribes. To L, N, R, K, S, J, P, J, B, B, E, A and T. To my mom and my Grandmothers. Thank you for taking time to invest others. Thank you for taking time to invest in me.
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller.

On adventure with one of my favorites 🙂

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  • Thank you so much for this. When I was younger I was similar; toyboy and all my friends were boys. I related better with them or so I thought. Now that I’m older I have a wonderful tribe of woman surrounding me who climb and hike and love being outside. Sometimes I wonder if young woman believe a false narrative about other women. The idea that girls are catty and competitive was what kept me from trying to make close female friendships in my youth. The worst part is this narrative was coming from women about women! Of course nothing could be further from the truth because all the women I know are strong and supportive of each other. I wish I would have gotten smart sooner, I’m sure I missed out on a lot of great friendships.

    January 18, 2017 at 9:22 pm
  • Ellie Fuller

    Thank you for your strong and beautiful words. I am learning to appreciate and find and build more female friendships slowly, but it’s sometimes hard and easier to just be ‘one of the guys’. Your words remind me again of the power and value in such relationships; remind me they exist and that I should keep seeking them.
    I thought this was also a beautiful, open celebration of the power of female tribes without any hint of anti-maleness which made it all the more powerful. Thank you for sharing your story and thoughts.

    January 19, 2017 at 10:08 am
  • Jan Coleyshaw

    What a great article, it made me cry 🙂

    January 19, 2017 at 12:38 pm
  • Tom

    I hope your tribe will continue to have room for boys regardless of number of grey hairs 😉

    January 19, 2017 at 6:05 pm
  • OLA

    Hi Beth. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. What you wrote touched me deeply. Reaching out to other women is something that I am still struggling with, but your beautiful words made me feel like I had the necessary courage and motivation in me. Luckily, climbing happens to be a great vehicle for experiencing and learning sisterhood, so I have where to practice. Thank you for the inspiration, all the best to you.

    January 25, 2017 at 12:25 am