My Way

This is a post about Aretha Franklin and wearing a hijab and my mother’s funeral, and it comes to you from a cafe in Marrakesh Morocco.

img_3256I’m staring out the window at the crowds of tourists and locals crossing a busy street in front of the Koutoubia Mosque as I write. I’m alone in this city, far out of my comfort zone, and I’ve just ordered my first couscous. I settle into the ornate red pillows, ready for a genuine Moroccan experience, when I recognize the unmistakable voice of Aretha Franklin in the background.

Now I like Aretha as much as anyone and maybe more than most, but she is kind of getting in my way here, and it’s not even one of her better songs. I listen more closely and I feel the ghost of my mother snuggle into the pillows beside me.

What is my mom doing here? She died a few years ago and, in spite of her having been a difficult woman in many ways, I admired her a great deal. She was passionate, smart and so headstrong that when my sister and I were looking for music to play at her funeral my sister jokingly suggested the song “My Way.”

Mom’s death was sad, of course, but also bittersweet. Her body was tired and her mind was worn, and her independent spirit was struggling to maintain its identity as the rest of her began to fail. Because the Frank Sinatra classic was a favorite of her generation, I went ahead and searched out the words. To my surprise they weren’t silly; they were rather touching and perfect for my mother. (And apparently not only for my mother. Inquisitr reports that My Way is the number one song used at funerals in Great Britain. Who knew?) We used the song and yes, my sister and I both cried profusely as it was played. I realize that’s the song Aretha is now singing.

One of the things that I most admired about my mother was her strong sense of justice. A white woman from a farm in Kansas, she somehow found her way to a strong belief  in the dignity and equality of all humans and she spent her adult life arguing for the rights of every non-privileged group she encountered. Except for one.

blog1My mother was mostly unaware of Muslims until late in her life, when the events of 9-11 and the subsequent wars put this unexplored culture front and center in the worst of ways. Her feminist side responded first, and her anger at the much touted restrictions on Islamic women flared at about the same time that her ability for nuanced analysis was fading. She came to hate the hijab and all other forms of religious covering worn by Muslim women, refusing to see the head coverings as anything but a sign of male dominance.

I work in the oil industry, and I know many Muslims who I admire and enjoy. I tried to explain to her that head coverings were worn for many reasons that often included a woman’s own choice. That choice might be influenced by her desire to please her family, her society, or her God, or it might center around her own feelings of comfort or safety. My mother would not listen.

So now I am looking out the window, watching the world walk by, and her spirit is staring out the window with me. Half of the humans we see are female, and a few are covered from head foot, only showing eyes. “I still think that’s horrible,” she mutters to me.

blog2Some wear all manner of scarves, including some of the tourists. Others let their hair fly in the breeze; long tresses and short bobs, the blonde, the black and the grey of the women of dozens of nations and all ages. They move happily, most of them talking and laughing no matter how their head looks, sometimes jumping out of the way of the many women and men riding motorbikes and bicycles down the crowded street. I turn to my mother’s ghost and she nods.

Aretha Franklin is well into her rendition of the song “My Way” now, and I decide that the overall effect is not bad, even though I wish she would have changed the lyrics to say “what is a woman?” instead of “what is a man?” Nonetheless, I think that mom likes the song, and that she is beginning to appreciate the scene outside the window. All those women out there, each one doing things her way, even if not everyone in the world understands it.

blog3I sip on the mint tea that is everywhere, and my waiter brings the vegetarian couscous cooked in the wonderful clay pot called a tagine. It is as delicious as anything I’ve ever eaten. I consider how I am a feminist, too, and I share my mother’s belief that no one should force a woman, or a man, to wear garments that restrict her (or his) freedom to move, see, talk, eat or enjoy life. But part of that belief is that every woman should get to live her life her way.

Mom is fading back into the velvet pillows now as I concentrate on my lunch, but I like to think that she and I reached some sort of understanding. Freedom to make personal choices matters. That freedom meant the world to my mom; it means a lot to me. And it is what Aretha has been singing about all along.

(Enjoy this video of Aretha Franklin singing “My Way” and check out the lyrics below. For more about my trip to Morocco go to I see ghosts, That’s Why you Make the Trip, It’s an angry world in some places, and Happy International Day of Peace, Lahcen and Najet.)

My Way

And now, the end is near and so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain

I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption

I planned each charted course each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew when I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried, I’ve had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside I find it all so amusing

To think I did all that and may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got, if not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way.

“Because I Can”

beautiful life6Not sure when women got March as Women’s History month, but I’m glad they did. Her story isn’t told nearly as often as history. It is a little surprising, though, that along with this attempt to add more balance to our knowledge of the past, there is suddenly a wealth of sites celebrating songs that empower women. Buzz Feed offers 17 Empowering Songs By Female Artists To Boost Your Self-Esteem, The BoomBox has 20 songs to celebrate the superwoman in you, and vh1 has The 15 Greatest Girl Power Anthems. Each site features best lines from the song, the reason the song is great, and a video to enjoy.

I thought it was interesting that only three songs showed up twice.  The honors go to “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child, “Stronger” by Britney Spears and the all time classic “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. It is worth checking out all three sites, but if you are just curious which songs were chosen, an alphabetical list of all 49 songs is at the end of this post.

Do you have one or two of your own to add? Of course you do. We all have our personal favorites.

I needed to find an anthem celebrating female power when I was writing c3, but because my hero was a fan of country music, I needed to find it in that genre. Country music isn’t my own first choice for listening, so I couldn’t think of a single one. I did a search and was surprised at the number of contenders. I finally settled on a song commonly called “Because I Can” by LeAnn Rimes and after listening to it and writing about it, I’ve come to really appreciate it. Here is how it got used in the book.

Teddie returned to her room mid-morning and pushed herself to stay awake through the rest of the day’s classes. Most of her life she’d been a good student, and she was trying to accept the fact that this year would be the exception. While kids back home were already stressing out about college applications, Teddie could only trust that her sense of adventure in spending a year abroad was going to count for something.

LeAnnShe was hoping for a nap before dinner, but Haley was already in the room, happily singing along to one of Teddie’s favorite country songs. Haley preferred pop and rock, but she had slowly warmed to some of Teddie’s music. Right now she was belting out the empowering words to song often referred to as “Because I Can”. It was impossible not to ask what was going on.

“One blogger called it ‘Barbie climbs Everest,’” Haley laughed, “and you know what? Even though I am not climbing Everest, I wasn’t offended.”

“Can I assume that means that you are part of the expedition again?” Teddie asked.

Haley’s wide grin was answer enough. “’Cami girl’—that’s my other name—‘set to climb Kanchenjunga.’ That was the other big blog’s headline. I can’t believe that it is really going to happen. You do know that this means that I am out of here in less than a week?

“What? Why? You don’t climb until May,” Teddie said.

“I know, but I’ve decided that I’ve got to spend more time adjusting to a higher altitude. We’re only at 6,700 feet here, so my dad is coming in a few days. We’re going to drive up to Lachen. It’s only about fifty miles from Gangtok but takes six hours to drive. It’s supposed to be gorgeous, and it’s at almost nine thousand feet. After a few days there we’ll drive up to Thangu at thirteen-thousand feet, and I’ve decided that I’m going to live there until the climb. I’m even going to let my dad do all the last minute coaching and training that he thinks he needs to do, because if I’m going to do this I have got to stack the deck in my favor every way that I can.”

Haley gestured to the pile of schoolwork on her desk. “I’m bringing my schoolwork with me, even though I’ll probably have to take incompletes in everything.” She looked hard at Teddie. “Are you going to be alright here by yourself?”

Teddie had to laugh. “Haley, you are about to go do something where people actually die, and you’re worried about me?”

“Well, there’s a lot going on here too.”

The song is also called “One Way Ticket.”  LeAnn Rimes gives the lyrics everything she’s got in this well-made video of her and her band performing it live. Enjoy.

Here are the songs from the other three sites.

  1. A Woman’s Worth by Alicia Keys
  2. Body Of My Own by Charli XCX
  3. Bust Your Windows by Jazmine Sullivan
  4. Can’t Hold Us Down by Christina Aguilera (ft Lil Kim)
  5. Conceited by Remy Ma
  6. Control by Janet Jackson
  7. Doo Wop (That Thing )by Lauryn Hill
  8. F**kin’ Perfect by P!nk
  9. Feeling Myself by Nicki Minaj (feat Beyoncé)
  10. Fight Song by Rachel Platten
  11. Flawless by Beyoncé ft Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  12. Fly by Nicki Minaj Feat Rihanna
  13. Follow Your Arrow by Kacey Musgraves
  14. Freedom  by Queen Latifah, Yo Yo, Lisa Left Eye Lopes, MC Lyte, Nefertiti, Salt-N-Pepa
  15. Girl Talk by TLC
  16. Girls by Santigold
  17. Goodbye by Kristina DeBarge
  18. Hair by Lady Gaga
  19. I Look So Good (Without You) by Jessie James
  20. I’m Every Woman by Chaka Khan
  21. Independent Women by Destiny’s Child
  22. Ladies First by Queen Latifah Feat Monie Love
  23. Love Me by Katy Perry
  24. Love Myself by Hailee Steinfeld
  25. Man! I Feel Like a Woman by Shania Twain
  26. Milkshake by Kelis
  27. No More Drama by Mary J Blige
  28. No Scrubs by TLC
  29. None of Your Business by Salt-N-Pepa
  30. Obsessed by Mariah Carey
  31. On My Own by Miley Cyrus
  32. One In A Million by Hilary Duff
  33. Pretty Girl Rock by Keri Hilson
  34. QUEEN by Janelle Monae Feat Erykah Badu
  35. Respect by Aretha Franklin
  36. Run the World (Girls) by Beyonce
  37. Satellite Call by Sara Bareilles
  38. Shake It Out by Florence + The Machine
  39. Stay Beautiful by Taylor Swift
  40. Stronger by Britney Spears
  41. Try by Colbie Caillat
  42. Unpretty by TLC
  43. Video by India Aire
  44. Wannabe by Spice Girls
  45. Whatcha Think About That by Pussycat Dolls (ft Missy Elliot)
  46. Who Says by Selena Gomez
  47. Who’s That Girl by Eve
  48. You Can’t Play With My Yo-Yo by Yo-Yo Feat Ice Cube