The Touchstone of Courage

Asking for courage is like asking for faith, or patience – you don’t get a magical infusion of the thing. You get opportunities to develop it.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I think maybe, just maybe, courage is determination wrapped up in persistence. Courage is not knowing the outcome, or knowing the odds are not in your favor, and trying anyway. It’s facing an unknown, unsettling, hard, scary, sometimes even dreadful thing. Taking its measure. Refusing to be defined by it. Formulating a plan. Stepping out. Seeing progress, which feeds more progress. Getting that sense of having turned a corner, and feeling the euphoric rush of certainty that you will see it through.

Courage is a touchstone.

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” ~ C.S. Lewis

What is a touchstone? It’s a test for determining quality, authenticity, or genuineness. Why does this matter? It means this: the source of our greatest fear can become the touchstone for our greatest courage.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

A tangible reminder of my days with Cheryl.

I have a touchstone. It is a heart-shaped stone, polished and etched with a single word: STRENGTH. I carried it with me a few years ago when I traveled to Tallahassee on weekends to spend time with my beloved cousin Cheryl when her breast cancer, five years in remission, spread to her bones. It was a journey she did not want to take, because in going toward her future, she had to step away from the people and the life she loved wholeheartedly. Choosing to do that, to accompany her in that intimate way, as her physical health failed and her faith shuddered and groaned, was at once the hardest and easiest choice ever. How do I do this? Better to ask, how do I not? She taught us so much in her suffering: how to be graceful, eloquent, and concerned with the well-being of others, always. How to let herself be loved and reassured and cherished. And how to love and reassure and cherish those of us who gathered around to accompany her on that private, noble journey. It was a time of continually giving and receiving permission to let go and accept the reality of what was happening not just in Cheryl, but through her in us. It was an exquisitely sweet time, one in which our world became very small as we sat with her, and held her, and cried with her, and reminisced and laughed and knitted our very souls together in one comforting blanket of love and memories. The stone still represents the strength she both gave and received.

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” ~ Alan Cohen

What are we most afraid of? I believe it is precisely that place that will be the source of our courage. And encouragement? To me, it’s sharing our courage with others who need it. Stepping into their journey with them. Sitting with them in their storm. See, when we ENCOURAGE someone, we are actually infusing them with courage they can’t generate within themselves. They are on the inside of the storm looking out and feeling overwhelmed. We are on the outside of the storm looking in, and we see its limits. We are seeing beyond their storm. What a gift.

For more on the subject of courage, and encouragement, please visit: http://www.incourage.me/

Advertisements

The Grand Dame of Palafox Street

Built in 1925, Pensacola’s Saenger Theater is often referred to as “the Grand Dame of Palafox Street.” Historically, Saenger theaters throughout the South as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico immersed patrons in the opulence of French Renaissance, Italian Baroque, Neoclassical Revival, Art Deco, and Spanish Baroque/Rococo styles. If the patrons couldn’t travel to Europe, the Saenger brought Europe to them.

Saenger night shot

Pensacola’s Saenger Theater. Photo courtesy visitpensacola.com

Why so many Saengers? Brothers J.H. and A.D. Saenger of New Orleans saw a trend – palatial atmospheric theaters showing moving pictures – and jumped out in front of it in a big way. Built during the 1920s era of silent movies, pipe organs, and vaudeville shows, these “movie palaces” still add an atmosphere of European elegance to live performances and classic films.

 

saenger theater interior pensacola saengercom

Inside the Saenger. Photo courtesy pensacolasaenger.com

A multi-million dollar renovation in 2009 restored the elegant but aging Pensacola landmark to its original luster. From symphony concerts to Stomp!, an evening at the Saenger is an occasion to savor. For a look at upcoming local shows and events:

http://www.pensacolasaenger.com/events.

Dining Al Fresco

al fresco brian butler

Putting the “fresh” in “fresh food, served fresh.” Photo courtesy Brian Butler

Spotted recently in downtown Pensacola: four sleek silver Airstream trailers. They’re not just passing through, either; you can find them at the intersection of South Palafox and Main Streets. If you’re looking for a delicious outdoor dining option with out-of-the-box menus like fresh Gulf seafood, authentic Southern barbecue, a Tex-Mex taqueria, and Asian fusion, and you like the idea of people watching while perching at a pub table under a patio umbrella just a few steps from Pensacola Bay, this is probably a great fit for you. “Gouda Stuff” has a menu dedicated to grilled cheese lovers. Can you even imagine?

If you want your lunch to be a combination of great local food, a perfect heart-of-downtown setting, and breezes off the bay…call me and I’ll join you. It’s like taking an hour-long vacation without leaving the zip code. Most places are open for lunch and dinner, there’s a daily happy hour, and on Mondays, kids 12 and under eat free. Explore menus to your heart’s content here: www.eatalfresco.com.

The Safest Woman Around

gone but not forgotten headstoneI met Bridget yesterday in a cemetery so small and unnoticed it almost looked like a vacant city lot. The headstones were scattered and homemade. In the middle of the cemetery, there was a big old live oak tree, and near the tree, a single wooden bench.

We were installing graphic panels in a wooden kiosk, panels that helped show and tell the story of the cemetery and some of the people buried there. Occasionally people passed by on foot or bicycle, greeting us politely, curious about what we were doing there.

Bridget called to us from her house across the street, and before long she was beside us, sporting plaid pajamas, a gray sweatshirt, and a cheery pink hat. She’d been keeping an eye on the cemetery and the kiosk, she told us, and she loved the idea that the cemetery’s history was being preserved.

Bridget had served in the Army, we learned, been in Germany, knew something of Homeland Security, held a degree from the local university. She was a minister now.

Bridget told me a story about Mary, who used to walk through the neighborhood every day. Bridget became acquainted with her, and they used to walk together. “Miss Mary used to tell me this was good for her mind, walking here,” Bridget said proudly. “We got used to seeing her around all the time. Folks would talk with her, and she would talk with them. She was just a common woman, in common clothes, you understand? Nothing fine or fancy about her.”

“Wasn’t till later we found out Miss Mary was from an old Pensacola family, and she had money. She never let that be what she was about. She just loved walking here, and she would talk to anybody, and we all knew her. You know what? I bet Miss Mary was the safest woman around. She wasn’t big, or tough, but nobody bothered her.”

I thought on Bridget’s words quite a bit the rest of the day. A woman like Miss Mary could have stayed tucked away in a big house in a gated neighborhood, never knowing anything of the people who lived in the communities she passed through — or around — on her way to other places. She could have kept her friends and associations limited to just people who were like her. But she didn’t. Mary’s family was successful in business, and they gave back most generously to the community that had been good to them.

And then I thought: would we do that now? Walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, taking time to greet people and be greeted by them, not just rushing through on our way somewhere else? If it weren’t for Copper, I might not have the inclination to walk through my own neighborhood, let alone one that wasn’t anywhere near my home. But Miss Mary, she did exactly that, with an open mind and an open heart, and she found not only her way, but her place.

Just Do It

Golden Rule #31: Do What You’re Made To Do.

Of all the rules, this is one of my absolute favorites. Does this mean you’re only made to do one thing? Nope. It certainly doesn’t. It means you are wired a certain way, with specific gifts, skills, strengths, and aptitudes, and completing those circuits will complete something inside you like nothing else.

Many years ago my best girlfriend in the history of ever hand-lettered a beautiful sentiment. No idea where she got it, but I memorized it, and it has proved itself so true, over and over and over, as the years have gone by.

A woman will get only what she seeks

Choose your goals carefully

Know what you like

And what you do not like

Be critical about what you can do well

Choose a career or lifestyle that interests you

And work hard to make it a success

But also have fun in what you do

Be honest with people, and do your best

But don’t depend on anyone to make life easy or happy for you

(Only you can do that for yourself)

Be strong and decisive

But remain sensitive

Understand who you are

And what you want in life

When you are ready to enter a relationship

Make sure that the person is worthy

Of everything you are physically and mentally capable of

Strive to achieve all that you want

Find happiness in everything you do

Love with your entire being

Love with an uninhibited soul

Make a triumph of every aspect of your life.

(Author: Susan Polis Schultz)

I haul it out and think on it, especially when I struggle with whether I’m doing what I’m made to do. Mind you, I haven’t questioned that much in the last 15 years or so. I know I am. But before that? I worked as a customer service representative for a big publishing company. It had a daunting list of unfamiliar products, a phone system that screamed and flashed lights when calls were waiting, a computer system that defied anyone’s ability to navigate, and countless bright eyed college students spinning facts from scripts at dizzying speeds while administrators trolled up and down between the desks. Oh yes and hosts of angry customers, many of whom worked up a healthy head of steam while waiting on hold for almost an hour. Time clocks. Policies. Dress Codes. Headsets. It was memorable for so many different reasons, and I can still recall in vivid technicolor some of the most vicious calls.

Before that, I worked for a general practice law firm, back before computers were commonplace but mag card typewriters and IBM Personal Typing Systems…now they were everywhere! I could transcribe dictation, navigate the Michigan Court Rules, decipher the world’s worst penmanship, set up and maintain complicated client files, and file court documents with the best of them. The stories from that place! No wonder John Grisham can write so prolifically!

And before that, I sold black sweet cherries at roadside fruit stands during the summers. Great way to meet people. Get a good tan, if only on the front half of me. Weigh and display fruit. Count change. Give directions to out-of-towners. It was a grand adventure that began when I was about 14.

There were other jobs along the way, too, and even when I despaired of ever making a living as a writer, in retrospect, I know this for sure: there was no wasted time, no wasted skill. It all went into the hopper of life experience, and I use it today. Well, maybe not the mag card typewriter. But the ability to master unfamiliar equipment and programs? Yep. What about calming down upset people? Every. Single. Day. Preparing invoices? Cutting checks? Giving directions? Oh yes. Yes indeed.

The thing is, you have to get to a point where you know that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. You’ve paid your dues. You don’t apologize…you just do what you know, and do what you are, and it is enough. It is more than just enough. It is the best and rarest thing ever. Don’t forget: you have the best job in the world — and you are absolutely qualified to do it!

How did Copper teach me this life lesson? Well, he pretty much underscored it. Life itself taught me, and life is a relentless teacher…if you don’t get the lesson one way, it circles around and teaches you another way.

IMG_0398

Copper is all about doing what he is made to do. Copper’s registered name is Wright’s Golden Comfort. He is uniquely attuned to the atmosphere around him. When someone needs comfort, he is all over that. He leans into them. He staples them to the floor with his body. He just oozes comfort. I don’t know how he knows. But he knows. And he is the greatest comfort when things are uncertain. Turns out he joined us on the cusp of more uncertainty than anyone imagined. And he just muscles his beautiful golden way right through it and reassures us with his smile and his incredibly positive attitude. Is he perfect? No. Does he make things better? You better believe it!

Daring Greatly…and Being Thankful

Golden Rule #29: Be Thankful for the Opportunity.

This one is pretty easy, when things go well and you finish a project triumphantly and you get to hear praise for your creativity and hard work and the check arrives and you have the prospect of more wonderful things in the near future. Yep. It really is.

And then there are times when you take on more than you can possibly do, and you know that even your best effort might not be enough. You’re tired, dirty, hungry, and nobody is paying the least bit of attention to you or your work. Instead of feeling good, you’re feeling lousy, and the refrigerator stops working and the car is making a funny noise and that’s an unexpected bill in your mailbox.

How about the times when you have to change course so suddenly that you don’t get a chance to finish what you started? Those might be the hardest ones of all — there’s no closure, no sense of completion.

To all of those, can you say, gracefully, “thank you for the opportunity?” Even bad experiences teach us important lessons, and those lessons definitely stick!

I absolutely love Teddy Roosevelt’s speech entitled “Citizenship in a  Republic.” In part, he said,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

You can’t go wrong being thankful. You just can’t. It catches people off guard. Often they aren’t expecting it. They might think you’re going to ignore them, or chew them out, and instead, you thank them. Try it. See what happens.

copper gaze on bed

Copper embodies gratitude. He thanks me for waking up in the morning, for taking him for his two daily walks, for his food, for his treats, for his school sessions, for making sure he has access to fresh flowing water in the bathtub, and for any number of other things. He sometimes shows it in crazy ways — just yesterday I had to bribe him to release a macaroni-and-cheese print sock of Marley’s, for instance. But there is no “cold and timid” with Copper. I know where I stand with him. His gratitude makes my days infinitely better.

Winging It

Golden Rule #27: Embrace Unexpected Change. I Know. It’s Very Hard.

I have learned every single one of the Golden Rules posted during this 31-day challenge. Most of them, I’ve learned the hard way. You know, not by just hearing about someone else’s experience, but instead, by living them in excruciating detail. Some come harder than others. This one, for me, comes very, very hard.

From the time I was very small, I liked to know what was next. I have a well-earned reputation as a champion list maker. I make lists of lists. My parents despaired of me ever progressing beyond some of those lists, I’m sure, but hopefully as the years have gone by, I’ve made some progress.

It took me a long time to realize, the goal isn’t to fit your life to the plan, or the list. Rather, the goal is to master the art of improvising, adapting, persisting, and overcoming. Bonus points for doing that with a good attitude!

I like plans. I really, really like plans. They make me feel so much better. But sometimes we get so focused on our plans that we don’t open our minds and hearts to the unexpected. Like this week, when I got to spend time with these people:

Marley Ian Silo Jess Tim and HillaryThese are some of my favorite people on the planet: Hillary, Tim, Jessica, Marley, and Ian, with the incomparable Silo in Marley’s arms. We had a spontaneous dinner party at Tim and Jessica’s when Ian and Hillary (literally) flew in for a fly-in. Did we have time for a plan? Nope. We just (don’t groan) winged it. And it was perfection, from start to finish.

So. Plans, even the best-laid plans, can, will, and do change, without any warning at all. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a plan? No, not at all. It means, be willing to wing it when plans change. The best things happen that way, and sometimes we end up realizing, like I have, we dreamed and planned too small!

Copper is marvelous when it comes to changing plans. He adapts on the fly, of course, and is willing to change course midstream. He doesn’t pout or hold a grudge. He puts himself wholeheartedly into the new plan, and frankly, he makes all my plans so much better.

copper blanket swaddle

This is what happens when I plan to change my sheets…