‘I’m glad you’re a woman’

‘I’m glad you’re a woman’

When Angela Merkel was once asked what she would like history books to write about her, she said, “That I tried.” And this is the last phrase in a book on the outgoing German chancellor that was recently published in Greek, her “favorite verb,” as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis commented at Friday’s press conference during Merkel’s visit to Athens.

It must be hard for such a highly visible personality, an official who played such a definitive role in the fate of Europe, to choose the phrase “I tried” instead of “I succeeded” as the epilogue to 16 years at the helm of Europe’s most powerful country. It is, surely, an indication of her aplomb, self-discipline and moderation, her ability to lead without being overpowering. There are only positives to be taken from the adjectives that are being used to describe her and from the profusion of assessments of the work she leaves behind. This is especially so today, a time when demagogues and populists, from the right and the left, so often set the tone of political discourse.

“I’m glad you’re a woman. I think this will gradually become normal in politics,” Merkel told Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou during a visit to the Presidential Mansion yesterday morning. In her own way, the outgoing chancellor continues to talk about the future Europe she would like to see by picking those aspects of the present reality that she wants to underscore.

This has been a week with an intense female presence and one of intense emotion with the death on Monday of Movement for Change leader Fofi Gennimata. It makes us ponder the impact, each with their own kind of influence and weight, the legacy of those women who have passed through our lives and those that have passed on (but are not forgotten), leaving behind something like a balm of calm and moderation on a reality that is increasingly raw. And oh how we need it.

For years – and to this day – moderation and reticence have been lambasted as conservatism, if not denigrated entirely and viewed as the absence of a position, the inability to take sides or cowardice, even. Faced with fear that anyone who isn’t shouting is not being heard, affability, dignity and a desire for consensus are mistaken for weakness and mediocrity.

Then something comes along every once in a while – an admirable career, a retirement or a death – to serve as a reminder of what we’re missing in the things that we hear and the things that we see. It is quiet, and quiet sometimes helps – because it makes us turn our powers of observation onto ourselves.

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