The Heart of Courage

We were shown a great deal of it yesterday.

After yesterday, I was inspired to look up the etymology of the word courage. It stems from the latin “cor” which means heart. The word has been around since at least the 1300’s.

The heart/courage connection makes a lot of sense when you think about it. The two have been intertwined throughout history. We say, “She had the heart of a lion.” Being told you have a brave heart is a great compliment indeed. “Take heart, my friends,” means have courage in the face of adversity. Follow your heart.

The reason I am thinking of this right now is that it took great courage, yesterday, for all those representatives to vote to impeach Trump after having been locked in rooms for hours, clutching gas masks, while a mob was trying to get to them, many of whom talked of lynching and other forms of assassination. They could hear the guards screaming in pain as they were attacked. They could hear glass breaking and doors breaking and gun shots.

I would have been terrified. Americans usually don’t experience threats to their lives in their homeland, especially as perpetuated by fellow Americans. (Well, unless you count those who are forced to walk among fools who refuse to wear masks in public in the midst of a pandemic.)

When the congressmen emerged, it was to see destruction and theft and death and hate symbols and defecation. It was to see that one of the most honored buildings in this country had been trashed. It was to learn that they weren’t adequately protected, and things could have ended even more horrifically than they did. Whether they realize it or not, I’m sure that the entire congress now has PTSD, and that’s going to back up on them sooner or later.

And yet, those representatives showed up yesterday, to the very room that they had to be rushed out of during the insurrection. They impeached Trump. That took guts for miles.

Yeah, nothing will probably come of it. The senate isn’t cooperating, and there’s not much time left (thank God). But the importance of recording, for all the generations to come, that insurrection is outrageous and unconscionable, made them act, despite knowing that there are people out there who will surely want them to die for it. It took a great deal of courage, indeed.

I particularly admire the 10 republicans who chose to do the right thing. Not only are they risking their lives but also their livelihood. They will be the focus of hate for acting based on facts and their personal integrity, even if it meant they were forced to go against the majority of their peers. It takes a lot to speak truth to power. What heart! What courage!

I couldn’t be more impressed if I were twins. Even though we’ve seen the worst of America during that riot, perhaps there is hope for us yet. I’m heartened by that. Very heartened, indeed.

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Discouraging

How dare you?

Recently, someone I know spent a great deal of time trying to talk a friend out of getting a divorce. She was convinced that this divorce would be the worst possible thing her friend could do. She applied a lot of pressure and created a ton of doubt. The jury is still out as to whether she changed her friend’s mind.

But the whole time this was going on, I was thinking, “How dare you?”

First of all, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors in any relationship. And it’s not for you to decide how someone else is to live life. Even if what that person is doing seems like a monumental mistake, it could be the catalyst that brings on greater things for him or her in the future. At the very least, the experience may be an important life lesson. The choices one makes are what shape that individual. You don’t have the right to determine someone else’s shape.

In my opinion, the only time you should try to intervene in another person’s decision-making process is when that person is contemplating suicide. Because that’s the one choice in life from which one cannot turn back. Give your opinion about other things if asked, yes. But don’t get all definitive unless someone is about to step off a cliff.

I came by this belief the hard way. Once, I was in a relationship that was making my life so miserable that I decided it was time to move on. I had all my stuff packed. I had decided what to say. I was ready.

And then I made the mistake of telling my oldest sister. And she screamed at me. Because she liked the guy.

At the time, my self esteem was so low that that was all the discouragement I needed. Maybe she was right. Maybe this was a huge mistake. I mean, he was a nice guy. A great guy. Was it his fault that he left me feeling unfulfilled and alone? Was it his fault that I felt as though we had no common goals, that we were working toward nothing, and that our future would forever be exactly the same as our dreary present? Was it his fault that I felt more like his mother than his partner? It’s not like he beat me or cheated on me. What were the odds that I’d wind up with anyone better?

And so, with tears in my eyes, I unpacked. And he never knew. And we stayed together for another 12 long, miserable, unsatisfying years. What a waste. What an unbelievable waste. For both of us, because he certainly deserved more, too. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

Discouragement is an interesting word, when you think about it. It basically means that you are taking away someone’s courage. No one has a right to do that. Ever.

Discourage

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On Staying Put

The worst mistake I’ve ever made was staying for decades in a situation that made me unhappy. I now look back on those years with sadness and wonder what I could have achieved if I only had the courage to listen to my gut. But no. I played it safe. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I thought that by putting everyone’s needs ahead of my own, I was being a good person. The truth was that I was afraid to take risks. What a massive waste.

In essence I held myself back, and by extension I’m pretty sure I held everyone around me back as well. I thought I was being kind by not rocking their boats, but actually I was being selfish. By not allowing myself to grow, I was stunting the growth of the people I cared about most.

Now that I’ve started leaning toward my growing edge, I’ve discovered that I’ve made a positive impact on a lot of people without even trying. I’ve been told that by doing my thing and living my joy, I’ve influenced others to take chances. I’ve gotten people moving and applying for jobs, and actually taking their talents seriously. I’ve encouraged people out of toxic relationships. I’ve introduced people who would otherwise have never known each other, and that’s sparked some amazing collaborations. I’ve shown people different ways to look at the world. I feel as though I’ve opened some sort of flood gate and the abundance therefrom is washing over more than just me.

Am I taking credit for other people’s lives and choices? No. Of course not. Life is way too complex for that. But I have to say that I’m noticing this existential shift all around me, and I don’t think I’d be seeing it, feeling it, or experiencing it if I had simply stayed put. I had to get into the flow to be a part of it, to increase that flow.

The worst thing you can do is make choices for yourself based on how others might feel or react. Doing so assumes that their present existence is their best existence. That means you are underestimating them. You have no idea how your changes might free them up to make changes of their own.

So don’t stay put. Don’t cling. Don’t become stagnant. Move! Grow! There’s a big old world all around you. Experience it!

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Discouraged

Have you ever had one of those days? You get some really bad news. Your usually dependable go-to friend in times of crisis doesn’t want to hear it. There’s an unexpected and shockingly high bill in your mailbox. A health issue you’ve been trying to take care of takes a painful turn for the worst. Your job security seems less secure. You’ve got a pimple on the tip of your nose, and your car is making a funny noise. In short, the universe seems to have peed in your Post Toasties.

It’s hard not to get discouraged in times like these. It kind of makes you want to don flannel from head to toe and pull the sheets up over your head, with nothing but chocolate truffles for company. (Actually, I pretty much always want chocolate truffles for company.)

Today I parsed the word discouraged for the first time. According to Dictionary.reference.com, “dis” is a Latin prefix meaning “apart,” “asunder,” “away,” “utterly,” or having a privative, negative, or reversing force.

So discouraged means an utter lack of courage. That works for me. Sometimes you just can’t work up the energy to be brave, and you therefore feel as if you’ve lost before you even go into battle. It’s a self-defeating spiral.

When I feel this way, I try to reach for whatever life ring I can get my hands on just to keep from sinking. So I’ll offer you this one for free. It’s the song Hang On Little Tomato by Pink Martini. It works even better if you mix it with chocolate truffles.

The Definition of Integrity

The dictionary defines it thus:

in·teg·ri·ty [in-teg-ri-tee]

noun

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

It is the quality I admire most in a human being, and when I see a lack of this quality I’m always shocked and horrified. It takes courage to stand up for what you know is right at that crucial moment when most people would look the other way and let someone else handle it. My nephew Ryan showed an amazing amount of integrity the other night, and I couldn’t be prouder.

It was his 24th birthday, and he was at a bar celebrating with his friend Nancy. As the evening wore on this group showed up, and one of the guys kept calling this girl a wh***, sl** and b***h. So Ryan walked over to her and told her she was an amazing person and didn’t deserve to be talked to that way. Then he returned to his table.

The guy’s friend came up to Ryan and said that he could talk to his wife however he wanted and that there was nothing some faggot could do about it. So Ryan stood up and told him that he might be a fag but that he was more of a man then they will ever be because he knows how to talk to a woman. The guy punched Ryan in the face. He fell back into Nancy’s lap, but he kept getting back up to fight back (not exactly successfully, he says) until the bouncer threw that group out. For the rest of the night Ryan got drinks and anything else for free from the bar and other patrons (including a big bag of ice for his fat lip). So, he says, “I didn’t win the war (I might not even have won the battle) but I’m holding my head high this morning knowing that I stood (and kept standing back up) for that woman and any woman who had ever been treated like that.”

There are several things I love about this story:

  • I don’t condone violence, but Ryan did not go over there to start a fight. He went over there to tell the girl she was amazing and deserved better. I suspect that no one had ever done that for her before. I hope it sinks in, because if her husband is treating her like this in public, heaven only knows what happens in private.
  • Even after he realized that standing up for what he believed in was going to equal personal pain, he continued to stand up.
  • Although he did not “win” the fight, he came away feeling proud of the person that he has become, and every patron in that bar reinforced that.

The only thing I do NOT like about this story is that the police weren’t called and the guy wasn’t charged with assault. Without that sort of legal paper trail, people like that will never be held accountable for their actions, and will never have the opportunity to learn that wives are not property that can be abused by the very fact of “ownership”.

But another thing happened with the telling of this story—I was reminded that my nephew has turned into a fine young man. My late sister would be so proud.

RyanBarb06

(Me and my favorite nephew, 2006)

Pardon Me While I Rant

(Since I feel like a break today, I’m posting an article that I wrote which was published in Folio Weekly, a local alternative newspaper here in Jacksonville, Florida, in October, 2012.)

I’d like to think I’m a good person. I have followed the rules all my life. I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. The police have never been called to my door. I got straight A’s in school. When I’ve got the sniffles, I power through and go to work. I don’t litter. I vote. I donate blood sporadically. I give little old ladies my seat on the bus. I pay my taxes. I even recycle.  I just made my 34th micro loan to Kiva.org. When I was 10 years old, I started my own business growing and selling house plants at the flea market, and I’ve pretty much worked or been in school ever since. I’m not the kind of person you’ll see on Jerry Springer. I don’t even WATCH Jerry Springer.

Is it just me, or should all of the above count for something? I mean, after 47 years of never coloring outside the lines, you’d think that the universe could see its way clear to cut me just the tiniest bit of slack. So much for good karma.

Two years ago I decided that my life was one big do-over. I was at a job that I loved, but it had no room for advancement, lousy pay, and even worse benefits. I needed a change. So I started researching other careers, and quickly became overwhelmed with the possibilities. Then I decided to go backward. Instead of trying to find a new career, I decided to figure out what kind of LIFE I wanted, and then figure out what type of career would allow me to have that life. To heck with the fact that now is not the time to be leaving a perfectly good job. I had a tiger by the tail, man! The sky was the limit for me! And everyone told me they admired my courage. Before I knew it, I’d sold my house (and took a total financial BATH on it, to be honest), left a 16 year relationship, quit my job, and moved myself and my dogs 3 ½ hours south, where I knew no one, all so I could study Dental Laboratory Technology at the only school in Florida that offers it.

Don’t say it. Do NOT mistake me for a Dental Hygienist. I respect that profession immensely, but no WAY is this girl sticking her hands into other people’s mouths. No. What I learned to do is make dental appliances such as retainers. And oh, how I love it! I love making things with my hands. I love the variety. I love solving dental problems for people. I love the smell of acrylic before it hardens. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in May.  So, happy ending, right? Of course not, or I wouldn’t be ranting. I sent out 198 resumes and/or applications to dental laboratories, and was willing to relocate anywhere on the continent… and NOTHING. Rejection letter upon rejection letter. Yeah, yeah, the economy. Blah, blah, blah.

I gambled and I lost. I’ve no one to blame but myself. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that that wasn’t supposed to happen. What about the American dream? Where’s the chicken in every pot, for Pete’s sake? I’m not only chicken-less, but I’m pot-less, people!

So, with my tail between my legs, I went back to my old job. Thank heavens I had left on good terms, or I’d be in deep trouble. And I realize I’m lucky to even HAVE a job in this day and age. The problem is that I’m now homeless. Before, I was able to survive on 10 dollars an hour because I had owned my home for 25 years, and the mortgage was only 430 dollars a month. Now, even though I have a some of the money from the sale of my house still left over, and a credit rating of 835, which is about as good as you can get, no one will allow me to buy a home, because I don’t have a year and a half of work history. Well, duh. I was in college. And I’m back with the employer who kept me for 10 years, so you’d think that this would indicate a modicum of stability. But no one will touch me. This thrusts me squarely back into the realm of renting. Great. Except that based on my calculations, the very most I can afford to pay is 600 dollars a month, and everything I’ve seen in that price range in this town comes with either hot and cold running cockroaches or hot and cold running crack addicts.

Get a studio apartment, you say. Well, yeah, but I still have my two little dogs, and while they’re mature and not destructive, if they heard strangers on the other side of the wall, they’d bark and that would not work out well in the long run. Give up the dogs, the only bright spot in my otherwise dreary existence and my only source of unconditional love? It makes me cry to think that that is what I’ll be forced to do.

Do I sound like a brat to you? Believe me, I do realize that I’m a lot better off than most people in the world. I’m grateful for so much. I live in a country with no famine or gulags or land mines, I have good friends and family, I have no children to worry about. I’m intelligent and relatively healthy. But I’ve worked hard for everything I have, and like most Americans, since birth I’ve been spoon fed the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I seem to be having a mid-life tantrum, because I never truly believed that I could lose everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

How is this possible? I’m 47 and I’m sleeping on a friend’s couch. Half of everything I own has been stuffed into the back seat of my ratty old car for a month and a half now. I feel like a freakin’ Okie, a la the Grapes of Wrath. Don’t I deserve my dogs? I mean, is that too much to ask?

I always thought I understood the concept of homelessness. I’ve seen people on the streets and it breaks my heart. I’ve donated clothing. I’ve thought about what it would be like, and I know that one way or another I’ll always be lucky enough to have some sort of roof over my head, whether it be mine or someone else’s, and for that I’m quite grateful. But when thinking about homelessness, I never really grasped the fundamental concept of wanting desperately to go home, and having no home to go to. Call me nouveau homeless if you want. I haven’t really earned the right to be called just plain homeless. I haven’t paid my dues. Yet. I strongly suspect that I have a great deal more to lose before all is said and done, though, so who knows?

So if you see me driving around in my ratty red sedan, which is bursting at the seams with old family photographs, college yearbooks, and my favorite lamp,  and I’m stopping at every for rent sign I see, please be kind. I realize I’m grasping at straws, thinking that there is a 600 dollar a month single family house somewhere out there that will allow me to keep my two little dogs and not have to go to bed with a cocked pistol under my pillow. Try not to laugh too loudly at my naiveté. You will be witnessing the last gasp of an American dreamer who just wants, more than anything, to go home.

(Update: I’m happy to say that since the writing of this article, I’ve found a wonderful place to live, and my dogs and I are quite happy here. However, it’s more than I can afford, really, and I’m spending 350.00 a month more than I’m earning as a bridgetender. If something doesn’t change soon, I’ll be back on the streets in about 5 months. It’s a scary and unsustainable way to live.)