"Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with power trippers, and she knows first aid. Courage is not afraid to weep, and she is not afraid to pray, even when she is not sure who she is praying to. When she walks it is clear she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she was stern were not lying; they just forgot to mention she was kind. ~ J. Ruth Gendler from her book Qualities"
I grabbed that quote from a small book I keep on my desk. It spoke to me this morning from deep within my soul. It called to me with an echo I could only hear from far off.
I want to be courageous. I want to take that first step, that second step, then a third and a fourth, and move courageously through my life.
But, life sometimes laughs too loudly, and stills my foot.
Life, sometimes, pushes me with invisible hands, off the path I'm on, into the weeds. And, as I fall, I feel the tears coming to my eyes, even as I bite my tongue...because I don't want to cry in front of ... everyone.
As I get up, and get back on the path, there is fear in my heart, and I'm sure it shows on my face. My courage splinters into tiny pieces that drift away in a passing breeze.
How courageous can you be, as a baby boomer woman? I wonder.
How can you take your big ideas and make them real?
At our age, we've been pushed around so much, we barely feel the roughness of the hands that shove us about. We seldom fall completely off our chosen path; instead, we step aside, lose a day or two, and rush to get back on track. But is it courage that compels us forward? Or is it fear of... giving up? Do we keep our feet on that forward path, hoping for a bit of kindness along the way?
I think we do. And it's why I especially enjoyed the last line of the quote above, "The people who told me she was stern were not lying; they just forgot to mention she was kind."
It may be hard to think of courage as 'kind' but think of the results of being courageous - achievement, accolades, pride. As women, especially baby boomer women, we are taught at a young age not to be courageous. Our teachers put their finger to their lips with a, "shhhh" when we speak too loudly. We are asked to let boys go first. (Is it changing now? Perhaps. More Moms and Dads have begun giving their daughters permission to be loud and assertive and accomplished, but society is still running to catch up.).
As a young girl, I didn't especially think about the world preferring my brother. I knew he was special. My mother was clear on that point. He was our only boy and by virtue of his anatomy, he was better than we girls. She wanted him to be a doctor. Me, she just wanted me to get a job as a teacher or waitress or nurse. I mean, that was what girls did. Because, in the end, we would just get married and our husbands would be the bread winner of the household.
And yet, she spent a lot of time making me understand that as a girl, as a woman, I was equal to a man. Oh, the dichotomy was a tangled web of mistrust, in my brain. I lived a Mommie Dearest kind of life and never knew when she was being kind whether she was sincere or just trying to make herself feel good.
I discovered that courage is kind in high school. I had my share of bullying - though nothing like kids today endure! - and as a result, I was able to gather my courage and push back when I saw others being bullied.
I learned in college that my courage could be useful, if I used it for others. Not for me. It took a lifetime for me to turn my courage inward and use it to defend and promote myself.
J. Ruth Gendler catches so much of how deep qualities like courage go, and how they are different for each person, as different as each of us is different. I have yet to read her book, but the quote below is intriguing and captures so much of how my life was lived in the basement, and how I wrestled with my fears - fear of being alone, fear of being unliked, fear of failure - not failure in my chosen work, whatever that would be, but failure as a human being.
"The Qualities seem to exist in a community of their own, apart from us, and simultaneously, they are very familiar, a part of our everyday world. I imagine that the Qualities live together in a town--Courage lives on the same block as Fear. Faith and Doubt are in the same apartment building; Despair hangs out in the basement. However, I don't want to emphasize the Town of Qualities too much because it implies that the Qualities are separate from us, and they seem to be both in and around us. Reading the Qualities aloud brings them to life; even the same Qualities change subtly in response to the moods and needs of the people listening. ~ J. Ruth Gendler
All those years ago, I must have had some courage. I know my fears often overpowered me, but some small measure of courage told me to get back up, to go out and enjoy the sunshine. And I did.
The most wonderful thing today is that I see the stories you have to tell, and I look in your eyes and marvel at how courageous all of you are. Baby boomer women have truly come a long way. And we now look courage straight in the eye, with great desire.
We are inviting courage in, as a friend.
And, being a good friend, courage is compelling us to build our big ideas into the joy of success. Whatever we decide that is.
Yes, courage looks you straight in the eye, but it's not an angry look. It's a challenge, with a smile, because in the end, the kindness is there to remind you - you matter. Be strong and alive and courageous, not for someone else, do it for you. (which brings to mind the Smithsonian channel's new series: Epic Warrior Women. I plan to watch! Don't you?)
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