What is Courage?

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear.

Nelson Mandela

Allied troops prepare to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 74 years ago today.

My dad, who was one of those troops so many years ago, once told me that only fools are never afraid. Being afraid doesn’t make you a coward, he told me. Brave people learn to go ahead despite being terrified.

This applies to all of us, he made clear at the time, and now I can see what he meant…me dealing with trauma therapy, my friends and family who have faced cancer, my friend who was suddenly widowed when her husband died of influenza several years ago…countless painful and scary situations, that so many of us from somewhere, deep down inside, find the wherewithal to face and overcome. I think that we are, all of us, braver than we realize.

Courage is not simply having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.

Theodore Roosevelt

An Adventure of My Soul

Every production of an artist should be an expression of an adventure of his soul.

Somerset Maugham

Continue reading “An Adventure of My Soul”

A New Year’s Wish

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

–Neil Gaiman

Continue reading “A New Year’s Wish”

Be Soft

My parents have been dead a long time. Or not so long. It depends on my mood, how long it seems. My mom died in April 2007, my dad in January 1993. I often wonder what advice they would give me now, about being childless, being disabled and in chronic pain and often frustrated and depressed. Then, by chance, today I came across a quote that spells out what I know in my heart they would both say to me so perfectly, it gave me chills. In fact, I can hear my mom’s voice…

Continue reading “Be Soft”

Stories

Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don’t do that much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us to live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We may need to listen to each other’s stories again.

–Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal

Most of my childhood and teenage Sundays were spent at my Grandma’s kitchen table. There was always the smell of coffee, and the kitchen was warm and cozy in the winter, the perfect refuge from the freezing Minnesota cold outside. Grandma always had plants in the window, like the African violets I could never make bloom at home, and from her second-story window we could see the nineteenth-century red-brick Grant House Hotel and Restaurant across the street.

Some Sundays, especially when I was little, the kitchen was full of aunts and uncles and rambunctious cousins (I am number 41 of 44), and I would divide my time between hanging out and listening to the adults and playing with my cousins. Other Sundays it would be just mom, dad, and me, all of us gathered around Grandma’s table, talking: me listening, drawing or playing with my dolls, and the grownups telling stories. As I grew older, I was allowed my own cup of coffee, and I interjected a question or two, but mostly I listened, fascinated.

Many of these stories involved memories formed during the bitter years of the Great Depression, when my parents were growing up, and the World War II years, when my dad was fighting Nazi Germany and my older uncles were in the service. But although the tales they told were set during harsh times, they were filled with love and warmth and laughter. I wish every child could have that gift, to grow up as part of a big, loving, crazy,  storytelling family.

The stories I heard during those years formed me into the person I am today. The tales related by my aunts and uncles and grandmother and parents illustrated for me the values that have become their greatest legacy to me. Like the importance of being able to laugh at your problems. Of always being kinder than necessary. Of not judging, because everyone is carrying a burden you might know nothing about. Of making your own decisions, not just following the crowd. Of the importance of forgiveness and not holding grudges. At 49 years of age, I am still plumbing the depths of the stories I heard at my Grandma’s kitchen table.

As Remen notes:

The best stories have many meanings; their meaning changes as our capacity to understand and appreciate meaning grows. Revisiting such stories over the years, one wonders how one could not have seen their present meaning all along, all the time unaware of what meaning a future reading may hold. Like the stories themselves, all these meanings are true.

Knowing your own story requires having a personal response to life, an inner experience of life…Most of us live lives that are far richer and more meaningful than we appreciate.

Perhaps this Thanksgiving we could put down our iPhones for a few hours…and tell stories?

Edit: I accidentally posted and sent out an earlier draft. Here is the corrected version. Thanks for your patience!

Only You Can Do It

You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only YOU can do it, and you must. 

Seth Godin 


N.B. All textures used are from the 2 Lil’ Owls Collection. You may purchase these marvelous textures through the link on the sidebar. 🙂

Before I Knew Her

 

The  summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years.  Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.

I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.

My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!

But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.

 

treasures of the heart

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

Thornton Wilder

gfancy_swilliam.sifter.lace.kk

the sad times…

I am feeling horribly fragile today, as I have been on most days these last months. Fibromyalgia pain, worsening back and neck pain from arthritis, migraines, foot pain, and depression, a nasty depression relapse that just goes on and on and on…Are my medications not effective any longer? Are changing hormone levels playing a role? Am I getting worse as I get older? Did breaking my foot so badly throw everything off? Or all of the above?

It’s hard to say. But none of my usual self-care strategies seem to be helping anymore. My gratitude journal, guided meditation, walking, losing myself in a good book…all of my long honored tried-and-true comforts are failing me. I’m also having a tough time reaching out to friends because I don’t know what to say.

And part of this, I know, is the ongoing pain of childlessness. The gaping, supperating wound that never heals. It’s always there, a dull ache that crescendos to a roar at times, like around Father’s Day, which is this coming Sunday.

I don’t quite know what to do with so much pain, both physical and emotional. My husband has been wonderfully, incredibly supportive, I have terrific doctors, but it’s as if my usual coping mechanisms have run dry. So all I can do for the moment is to hold on tight to the love I know heals me. From my family, my husband, my God. And force myself to get out of bed every day, to get dressed, to sit out in the backyard with the sun and the flowers and the dog, and hope that eventually healing grace will start to take hold.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Ann Radmacher

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