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Confronting Fear

A Personal Perspective From the Women's Conference

November 11, 2008

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Maria Shriver

I hid my tears from the other writers in the room for fear of appearing too emotionally touched by this former broadcast reporter, the First Lady of California Maria Shriver.

I was at the Women’s Conference Oct. 22 in Long Beach, where I heard Warren Buffet, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem and other powerful leaders speak about empowerment. But, it was Shriver’s poignant speech that struck my emotional chord. She spoke about her fears, how she’s confronted them over the past year and how those experiences are helping her become the person she wants to be.

Perhaps it’s because I’m taking a counseling course, taught by Barbara McDowell, Women's Center director at Cal State Fullerton, that I’ve got a heightened sense of emotional awareness. Or, maybe it’s that fear is a universal emotion. Whatever the case, I was moved and so were most of the 14,000 women at the conference.

Shriver talked about her fear of losing her 87-year-old mother, who has suffered several strokes, and her uncle, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor six months ago.

“The fear was all encompassing and it overtook me,” Shriver said. “I was afraid but, this time, I didn’t run as I did when I was younger.”

Dealing with her fear involved calling her uncle, “unlocking” her heart and telling him how much she loves him.

With her mother, Shriver said, she did some deep soul searching that brought her closer to her mother than ever before.

“My mother is the foundation of my life and the idea of losing her has been a terrifying thought that I’ve been running away from all my life,” she said, adding that caring for her mother has helped Shriver “break open like a melon.”

She shared a story about one of her hospital visits when her mother told her she wanted to “get going.” After a priest offered a prayer, Shriver said she did something she’d been afraid to do “my whole life.”

She got in her mother’s hospital bed with her and held her hand.

“It was as close to snuggling as I’d ever gotten with my mom,” Shriver said. “Moments like that have helped me to learn, really learn, down to the core of my bones, something I never knew or never let myself know. The reason we’re here is to love one another, to connect with one another, to truly see one another. We are here, I believe, to experience moments of fear and pain and joy. We’re here to share our hearts and our souls with one another and we do it by listening to each other and by hearing each other’s hearts …. I have learned, at the age of 52, that listening is love.”

To view Shriver’s full speech, go to the website and click on “Watch Luncheon Session.”

Words of Wisdom

The Women’s Conference speakers offered words of empowerment. Here are a few I heard throughout the day:

“The whole idea of ‘you can do it all' is a myth because we can’t do it all. The point is not to change women to fit society. The point is to change society to fit women.” — Gloria Steinem, writer, organizer and co-founder of Women’s Media Center

“Do what you love.” — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

“You can’t wait until the fear goes away before you take the action you’re afraid of. The only way it goes away is by taking the action.” — Maria Shriver, California’s First Lady

“There’s nothing more powerful than the love of a woman.” — Actress Jennifer Lopez

“Follow your passion.” — Marian Wright Edelman, founder and CEO of Children’s Defense Fund

“Women need to help other women. There is a special place in hell for women who do not help each other.” — Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

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