Archive for the ‘Courage’ Tag
Last week my baby started first grade. Which means that from the hours of 9:00 to 3:30 each day, all of my children are now in school. When a friend recently asked me how I felt about that I answered: “Euphoric and terrified at the same time.” Euphoric because I can finally focus on finishing my novel and getting it out there. Terrified for the very same reason.
I realized how scared I really was about this on the morning my kids started school. As soon as they were out the door, I jumped on my mountain bike and headed up to the foothills near our home. I was almost to the top of the trail when a large, tawny-colored animal crossed the path ahead of me and disappeared into the trees. It had only been about 30 feet in front of me, but with the bend in the trail I hadn’t gotten a good glimpse of it. Most likely it was a mule deer. They live in these hills, and come down from the mountains in small herds to devour any unprotected vegetable garden in their path. But as it hurried away into the scrub oak, I swear I saw a long TAIL. My brain screamed MOUNTAIN LION, and I turned my bike so quickly in the opposite direction that I hit my back wheel on a rock and got a flat tire.
I hurried out of the park as fast as I could, and took the paved road back home. Unfortunately, that road took me by the cemetery, and as I walked past, pushing my bike alongside me, I noticed the vultures that nest in our city cemetery circling overhead, their great dark wings hanging heavily against the sky. “If I were writing a story,” I thought. “The mountain lion and the vultures would make really potent symbols.” I continued to ponder this. “What,” I wondered, “would they represent?”
And of course, that is when it hit me: fear. My own fear. Of failure.
I had to laugh at myself then. And laughing gave me just enough courage to sit down and write, so as soon as I got home, I pulled out my computer and got to work. Now I’m struggling through. I have to admit, it is taking a LOT of chocolate. But I am looking fear in the face and I am doing it. I haven’t seen any more mountain lions slink past, and the vultures have stopped circling overhead. I found a quote recently that I need to blow up in ginormous writing so that I can remember it if a shadow passes above me, or something heavy moves in the trees. It is by Gordon B. Hinckley and it goes like this: ”You have not failed until you quit trying.”
In last week’s post I promised more discussion about my failed attempt to finish my novel by January 24th. Like I said, I’m happy with the way the revisions are going, but in February I wasn’t feeling quite so optimistic about it. I have been working on this novel for YEARS. It has grown and developed so much, but it has also spanned all the years of my motherhood. In fact, when I started with my first critique group I missed our inaugural meeting because my oldest child had just been born. At the time, I was workshopping the same manuscript I am working on today, and in February, that newborn baby turned ten years old.
When his birthday arrived, I was already feeling like a failure for not finishing my novel. Now I began to mourn the fact that my baby had become such a big boy. Time felt like a weight on my shoulders. I didn’t seem to have any control over it. I wanted to stop the rush of years, get my book done, and hold on tight to my little ones before they all grew up.
About that time, my parents came into town and invited me to a Utah Jazz basketball game. I brought my oldest son with me, and we had fun eating nachos and cheering with the crowd. Then something entirely unexpected happened. At half-time a group of dancers came to the floor. They wore long tops and pants, and most of them had white, permed hair. They were announced as Jean’s Golden Girls, ranging between 50-93 years old. Between them they had 500 children, 1200 grandchildren, and 250 great-grandchildren. The music started, and those women started to shake and shimmy like you’ve never seen.
It took my breath away. I watched them give everything to the dance, smiles on their faces. I whooped and screamed, delighted at their performance, their joie de vivre, and suddenly I was crying. Tears streaming down my face in the middle of a loud, hot, crowded basketball stadium. I seriously wondered if I was losing my mind. I tried wiping my eyes before my mom could see and wonder about my mental health, but I just couldn’t watch those ladies without a profound emotion welling up from deep inside.
By the time their six minutes on the court had ended, something inside me had changed. I didn’t think of time in the same way – as something finite that was rushing past me, ever elusive. I saw it now as a gift to be enjoyed. Celebrated. Used for living, writing, mothering, dancing. The fear that time would pass me by no longer pressed down on me, and when the show ended with a ninety-three year old woman doing the splits in center court, I cheered louder than anyone else in the stadium.
That was over a month ago, and the weight is still diminished. I continue to ask myself, ‘Will I ever get my novel finished?’ but I know I will. Maybe not in the time frame I would like, but I am committed to it, and I will finish it. It is also true that my children will grow up much faster than I would like. And it will break my heart and make me happier than I can imagine all at the same time. But I’m going to try not to worry too much about deadlines or driver’s ed. I’m going to try and enjoy the dance.
The other night I dreamed I was back at Harvard, standing in the Dean’s office, defending myself against accusations that I hadn’t completed all my coursework and that I wouldn’t be able to graduate. My tearful defense: “I made a quilt for each of my four babies!” The Dean checked the course catalog for quilting classes, but there was nothing. No quilting credits. No diploma.
This is a recurring dream of mine. I have it at least once a month. I’m back in college, but for one reason or another, I can’t graduate. Usually its because of math. Or because I’m lost and can’t find my way to class. I don’t understand why these dreams plague me. I did graduate.
I’ve decided I must be carrying around some serious feelings of inadequacy. I said as much to my husband, and he told me, “Those feelings are what got you through Harvard.” I realized he was right. The inadequacy is the dark side to my ambition.
Recently I gained a greater appreciation for that ambition. I was reading ANNE OF GREEN GABLES with my daughter. We were at the point in the book where Anne has left Green Gables and is studying at Queen’s. She has just decided to try for the Avery scholarship and an Arts course at Redmond College. She muses,
Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them – that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.
And it does make life interesting. The challenge. The self-doubt, the searching, the striving. When I think about it, my greatest ambitions stretch far into the horizon. They are life-works that won’t be accomplished in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. They give me something to work toward. To focus on and reach for. I had never thought to be glad for them, or for my ridiculous angst-ridden dreams, but I suppose I should be. They have gotten me where I am, and promise to make life interesting as I continue on my way.
Everyone has their favorite superhero. For my older brother, it was Underdog. I remember watching it with him Saturday mornings, stretched out in front of the t.v. in our pajamas. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, but when the show was taken off the air he wrote a letter to the network asking them to please bring back Underdog. He never did see his hero return to Saturday morning cartoons.
My favorite superhero is about the same age my brother was when we watched cartoons together. And lucky me, I get to see him in action everyday.
This little guy is unflappable. Nothing ever gets him down — not for long at least. And if he ever meets fear in face? Well — see for yourself:
Superhero getting his vaccines: “I don’t want shots! Scream, scream, cry, scream scream.”
Nurse, poking needle through his skin: “Hold still.”
Superhero: “That doesn’t hurt.” Instant cessation of tears.
Leaving pediatrician, boy screaming in the room adjacent to ours.
Superhero: “He’s scared. I think he is six. Yeah. He’s six. I wasn’t scared, and I’m only five.”
Or, Superhero losing his first tooth:
Dad, brushing Superhero’s teeth: “This tooth is really loose.”
Superhero, wiggling indicated tooth: cry, sob, cry.
Mom, checking out the loose tooth: “Wow, that is really loose. Should I pull it right now so you don’t have to worry about it, or do you want to wait until tomorrow?”Superhero stops crying: “Will it hurt?”Mom: “A little bit.”
Superhero: “Pull it right now.”
Mom twists and tugs. Tooth falls out.
Last example – Superhero fights (imaginary) inferno:
Fire alarms in the house malfunction and go off simultaneously. That night in bed, Superhero asks: “Is our house going to catch on fire?”
Superhero: “Are our neighbors’ houses going to catch on fire?”
Mom: “No. Are you afraid of fire?”
Superhero: “My forehead is afraid. And my stomach. But I am not afraid.”
That is the courage of my superhero. Courage that says it is okay to be afraid, as long as you are not as scared as the person next to you. Courage that faces pain today instead of letting fear prolong it until tomorrow. Courage that acknowledges fear, but doesn’t allow it to define who he is. Nobody is cancelling this show. And I’ve got the best seat in the house.