“Where do you take space for writing?” begged the writing prompt. I had promised myself at the beginning of the month to journal more. I even paid for the advanced version of an online journal, thinking if I could type my journal entries, I might dedicate time to processing my thoughts. I really should know myself better by this point in my life; I do not always do what I know is important.
This morning, I actually opened the journal on my laptop, but then emails distracted me. Before I knew it, an hour had slipped by, and I had answered emails and moved onto reviewing teaching applicants in preparation for a meeting this morning. My journaling intentions had dissipated as quickly as my first cup of coffee.
When this week’s online writing community’s invitation popped up in my email, however, it gave me pause. Where do I take space for writing? Writing often occurs in my head, and the best pieces of my craft emerge when I am on my daily four-mile walk, listening to podcasts that affirm my untangling of myself, my journey of self-excavation. The passerby often glances at me nervously if they hear my verbalized comments to the podcast guest speaking in my ear.
Ideas swirl in my head, and often, they course through my veins, exciting me because words offered by someone else connect deeply with me or challenge me to think differently about myself – my experiences – my life passage. This unraveling of understanding takes space in my mind, and while many of these narratives never make it to the page, they occupy my thoughts, and ultimately, they nudge me closer to becoming a better version of myself.
I promise myself I’ll be better at journaling – at writing on my blog – at outlining and even writing a chapter of the book my mentees often encourage me to write, but the words I write in my mind’s eye are the words I need to digest. These are the words that take up the most space until they are absorbed by my heart – by my actions – by my reactions – by my vision for the future. #MakeRoomForJoy
“She believed she could so she did” – a mantra one can find on signs throughout my house or posted on my social media platforms – is an ideology in which I fully believe. This statement propels me towards being the best version of myself, and these seven words empower me in indescribable ways.
Recently, a good friend of mine used this phrase with the female athletes he coaches. Listening to him use the expression with these young women gave me pause; in fact, it unsettled me. My heart pounded. Hearing someone say these words out loud to young women made me wonder if his audience truly understood the virtue of the statement or even what the mantra looks like in action.
In that moment, it occurred to me that the lesson may be lost as we rush to understanding, or worse, to application. Too often, we use an important statement such as “She believed she could so she did” as if it magically happens – as if saying it makes it true.
As they sat in their locker room, I asked the team which word was the most important in the phrase. Almost immediately, they uniformly said “believed.” My response shocked me. “No. It’s she. She is the one who believes in herself.” Since then, my quick reply has been sitting loudly with me – not because I don’t believe it, but rather because it revealed clarity to me I had not anticipated.
I imagine most people would respond similarly as the young women. On first glance, believing seems to be the key, and yet, without the subject – she – the action doesn’t take place. She must be the one to do whatever she knows will transform her life or the life of others. She takes ownership of the action. It really has nothing to do with believing; it has everything to do with the doing.
What does this mantra look like in action?
She took control of her health, focusing on her mind, body, and spirit.
She has maintained a 120 pound weight loss for nearly six years.
She empowers young people to understand their own influence.
She ended a 31-year marriage in order to live an authentic life – to honor her spirt.
She helps her daughter navigate living with stage four brain cancer.
She works with educators to change the world for children.
In the end, the message is not about believing. The power fully rests in the the action she takes. She does not need to believe she can; she needs to do what she says she can.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtures because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” Maya Angelou
We often think courage is something other people possess, and yet, 2020 offered us lesson after lesson of every day courage. The year offered us silent moments of reflection and beautiful illustrations of courage – of resolve – of heroism – of intrepidness – of bravery – of grit.
To date, according to the New York Times, the global pandemic has taken nearly 385,000 American lives, and we would be hard pressed to find someone not impacted by the virus, directly or indirectly. Since March, the news has been filled with brilliant examples of courageous acts: teachers masterfully meeting the emotional and social needs of their students in a virtual classroom; health care providers comforting isolated patients fighting for their lives, or worse, holding their patients’ hands as they took their last breaths – separated from their families; the custodial staffs tasked with disinfecting our hospitals as the deadly virus swept through; families whose livelihoods relied on the service sector, struggling to make ends meet as businesses closed; small business owners who have poured their hearts into their crafts, facing bankruptsy without the flow of customers; the elderly secluded in their rooms, unable to interact face-to-face with their familes; and on, and on, and on….
Non-COVID19 lessons have also demanded our attention in the murders of black Americans, and specifically the murder of black men. When a black man is more than 2.5 times likely to be killed by police than his white peer, we perhaps take pause (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793). What the Black community has been enduring for centuries could no longer be ignored by a white supremist culture. Courageous, protestors of all races and ethnicities joined the Black Lives Matter movement, often facing opposition or fearing attack by forces protected with shields and armed with rubber and real bullets, tear gas.
Courage is coming in the voices of every day people demanding, “Enough is enough.” Courage comes in knowing the color of your skin puts you at risk in America. Courage emerges as Americans, especially those of us who identify as white, wrestle with racism, listen to those speaking their truths, and work to shift institutional and cultural ideology. Courage comes as white people face their implicit and explicit bias and acknowledge their role in a white supremist culture.
After watching the historical, surreal events unfolding in our nation’s Capitol – America’s house – the personification of democracy, I am struck by the courage on so many levels. While our history as a nation is fraught with ethnocentric misogyny and a myriad of other flaws, the courage it takes 328+ million human beings sprad across 3.8 million square miles of land to live their own realities. Regardless of how we feel about politics – or who is in public office – or with which political party we identify (if we do) – the courage it takes for members of Congress to do our nation’s work is incredible. They do not have more intelligence or insight than you or I, but they are brave enough to try to make a difference.
The insurrection on our Capitol shook many of us. As the events were unfolding, my 24-year-old son sent me text upon text. He admitted he couldn’t focus on work, and he felt like crying. My response, “You should not be working. This is a catastrophe of epic proportion. It’s okay to cry. I am.” I sat glued to the television with a lump in my throat and watery eyes, not because I could not believe what I was seeing, but because I felt like I should do something. I just did not know, in the moment, what I could do other than console my children and my friends.
Over the past week, I have landed on the courage it is going to take of all of us to understand how we each of us has such a different perception of the reality of living in this country. It will take courage for us to admit to our misconceptions, and our part in the rhetoric. It will also take great bravery for us, as a country, to have difficult discussions with our families and our friends – with our communities – with people we perceive as enemies despite sharing the same national identification.
We have had quite a year, individually and collectively. We have experienced social unrest on so many levels, and yet, here we are. Every day, we stand on the cusp of new opportunities to make daring choices to be better than we were yesterday. As neighbors – as communities – as congregations – as families – we can be brave; our collective courage will allow us to shift paradigms and practices. Collective courage will be our saving grace. #MakeRoomForJoy #Courage
On December 28, I posed a challenge to my Facebook friends. Along with with Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote “Do one thing every day that scares you,” I asked “Who’s in?” It wasn’t important if I had others join me; after all, the post was more for me – a declaration – a promise to myself. If I intend to continue on this journey of untangling myself, of living an intentional life, of being present, then I really must understand the importance fear plays.
In a few of my previous posts, I have talked about helping my daughter navigate stage four brain cancer. Over the past year, I have faced the greatest fear of any parent, the fear of losing a child. Before she was born, I loved Elizabeth with an intensity I had never experienced. Watching her grow into an independent, driven, intelligent, compassionate human often took my breath away.
Parenthood, I confirmed with the birth of my second child, is indeed breathless moment upon breathless moment. The thought of losing either of my children can still choke me with trepidation, but this is nothing new. I found myself in deep conversations with myself convincing myself not to follow them on their first solo bike rides around town, and I often held my breath as they sauntered to the idling car which held their waiting friends.
Elizabeth’s diagnosis with a brain tumor just after her 21st birthday forced her to wrestle with her own mortality, and in turn, it begged me to do the same. The gift in this obligatory introspection shifted the way I think about fear; it invited me to embrace fear. Over the course of a few years, I recognized that if I allowed fear to paralyze me or if I chose to live in fear of what loomed on the horizon or hid in the shadows, then I would miss important moments. I would miss life.
Not long after this epiphany, I ended a 31-year marriage to an amazingly loyal man, an intelligent, kind-hearted human. I had spent nearly a decade feeling lonely in the marriage – disconnected – unfulfilled. Fear had restrained me in an unsatisfying marriage – fear of hurting our children – fear of disappointing my family and friends – fear of looking like a failure – fear of living independently – fear of the unknown.
As family and friends found out about my divorce, I was often taken aback by their response. While I am sure many hid their disappointment or disapproval, overwhelmingly, the response “you’re so brave” caught me off guard. In retrospect, I had not considered the courage it took to end a marriage. For so long, fear had held me hostage. When I embraced fear as a natural element of life, I freed myself in so many ways.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it,” wrote Nelson Mandela. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” As I began to practice facing my fears, or at the very least peeking around the corner at them, I understood Mandela’s insight. Whether the future involves figuring out how to winterize the house or take ownership of my finances or it demands conversations with my daughter about living wills or life celebrations, if I acknowledge the fear, i take a great step towards courage.
My advice: start small. Choose something in life that creates anxiety: shopping for a car on your own, eating dinner out alone, calling a friend with whom you haven’t connected for some time. You decide which fear you want to play with, and then chip away at it. As you practice acknowledging what scares you, you take its power. And then, before you know it, you are standing boldly in the midst of what scares you most: courageous, brave, upright, and resolute. #MakeRoomForJoy