I woke up today, International Women’s Day, thinking of my grandmothers’ smiles.

My father’s mother had a stroke in the 80s, and thereafter, she never recovered her speech. We never carried any conversation I can recall.

Yet I knew she was a strong woman, I could see in her frustration to communicate that she had strong opinions, that she used to have a mind that was sharp. I saw her multiple times throughout the year and she would always smile in recognition the moment she saw me, ready to grasp my hand, nod, and speak my name a few times. She’d then fade to return to the confines of interrupted neural pathways. Towards the latter years, she cultivated roses, spending the majority of her time in her small patch of garden. I have a memory of finding her through the bushes, among wafts of roses on a sunny Summer day.

My mother’s mother always had her hair pulled back into a bun, frequently wearing a grey button shirt. In my memory, she was no longer mobile on her own, she used a walker, and later was wheeled in a wheel chair. I hardly remember a conversation with her either. But similarly, there was always instant recognition, a smile that spread in a moment, head nods, the grasp of hands, and my name repeated from her lips. I knew she was a tough cookie, even though she was always so gentle with me. I’d frequently sit with her on her thatched tatami bed, observing her thin, spotted hands holding mine.

I woke today thinking about my grandmothers’ smiles and all their experiences and knowledge that I did not have access to. I wonder about how they met the needs of their families of 5, and of 7. I wonder what kind of dishes they cooked, or didn’t, what of their hobbies, their temperaments, their eccentricities, and the various roles they juggled. I wish I could have heard their stories in their own words, their thoughts, their pearls of wisdom and lessons of life.

Two generations later, I live across the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the World. I speak languages they didn’t, I cook different foods, I have a variety of hobbies they never experienced, I have skills they were never granted the opportunity to learn. Yet, I know, the fabric of me is woven from their wombs. In the grasp of hands in those moments of recognition, in their smiles now frozen in my mind, I know that they passed on the foundation of my spirit. I am eternally grateful of the paths they walked, so that the doors opened for me the way that they have.

Luckily, I have found amazing women in my life to learn from and to grow community with. Even more fortunate, I continue to share company with women that inspire and uplift me daily.

Today, International Women’s Day, as the movement for Women’s equality gains momentum, I’m thinking of all those women with positive influence on me, on the World, past & present, and how collectively we’ll open doors for Women in the future.

Strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. Happy International Women’s Day!