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Midnight Ritual MAG
"Are you going tonight?"
"Yeah, Are you?"
This was the typical conversation taking place in McAfee dorm on July 13th, 1992. I was in camp. A camp labeled "educational summer program," but a camp nonetheless. We slept in dormitories on the campus of Wellesley College. I have many memories of that summer, but one night stands out in my mind.
The entire day's activities had been devoted to women's issues and what feminism was all about. Then at night, after check-in, there was going to be a women's midnight ritual. Girls only, of course. No one knew exactly what we were going to be doing. Some people just went as an excuse to get outside after check-in, but I was curious as to what would happen.
We met outside at Bates Circle. The night was chilled from the earlier rain and as I tried to avoid the puddles, drops of water fell on me from the trees. About a hundred and fifty girls, some dressed, others wearing pajamas, were milling around the circle waiting to be told what to do. The low murmur of excitement and wonder hung in the air like the rain clouds over our heads. Although we were from all different parts of the world, with different customs and different ideas, we shared a common bond: being female.
The seven women counselors in charge began to hand out small white candles. When everyone had one, we walked in silence in a single file through the darkness to Severence Green. The walk, guided only by the light of a few lampposts, was short and went quickly.
Once there, we formed a large circle and sat on the ground. The grass was green and damp from the rain and I felt the cold of the earth beneath. But after a while, I did not notice it anymore. I heard the rustle of leaves being blown by the soft wind. In the middle of the circle, there was a candle burning. Rona, one of the counselors, lit her smaller candle from this one and then lit the candles of the two girls sitting beside her. These two girls, in turn, passed the flame to the next one until everyone in the circle was sitting with a small candle burning in her hand.
The candle lighting ceremony was followed by the rendition of the poem, "For Strong Women" by Marge Piercy. As Melissa belted out the poem with feeling, I listened to the words, concentrating on each syllable. "A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom of a lead coffin lid. She is trying ..." After the poem ended, we sang old folk songs about freedom and liberation. They started out shakily since we were following along with our papers, but as we began to learn the words, we sang louder. In triumphant unison, a hundred and fifty female voices echoed through the darkness.
Next we performed the ritual of burning our fears. Earlier that day, we had been asked to write down any fear or insecurity we had as women. We had these pieces of paper with us and one by one we proceeded to the candle in the center and burned them, symbolizing the destruction of our trepidation. Watching the ripped piece of loose-leaf burning in the flame, crinkling up and turning to ash, taking my greatest fear with it, gave me a feeling of power and control over my own life.
After each girl had gone, we were free to say anything we had on our minds. I decided just to listen instead of contribute.
The first girl to stand was hesitant. She said timidly, "I think it's wrong that women aren't treated as equals to men." When she saw the nods and looks of agreement, she continued with more confidence. "We have the same feelings, wants, and dreams and we need the opportunity to achieve them."
Another girl remarked, "I don't think it's fair for your boyfriend to drop you just because you won't go as far as he wants. Some guys can be such jerks." Her bitterness revealed that she had experienced this.
As I listened to the wide range of comments, I found myself understanding and relating to what these girls were saying. And I was glad we were out here on this summer night talking about it. I felt a part of something larger than myself. I was taken over by a feeling that I had never felt before in my life. I felt safe and strong and sure that one day women everywhere would be free to walk outside at night without having to worry about being mugged or raped or return to husbands who beat them.
When everyone had a chance to speak, we returned in silence to Bates Circle, still holding our burning candles.
"That was the most amazing thing I ever did," my friend said to me once we were back.
"Me too," I replied. And it was.
As I sit here and look at the dried candle wax on my copy of "For Strong Women," I remember sitting on Severence Green with a hundred and fifty other women who were feeling the same thing I was. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always remember. n