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Posts Tagged ‘courage’

stronger together heart graffiti three lives

“She couldn’t change the conditions, she couldn’t deny her awareness, and she couldn’t stand in the way of death or love. The only thing to do was to keep moving, to do something, to show courage, to give everything she was capable of giving.”

—Donia Bijan, The Last Days of Café Leila

I came across these words last month in Bijan’s gorgeous first novel (out April 18), and they (especially the second sentence) have lodged in my heart and stayed there. I have kept trying to figure out what to say about them, but I think they are exactly right on their own.

Street art spotted on the wall of Three Lives & Co. in the West Village, a couple of weeks ago.

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millennium falcon interior empire strikes back

Recently, the hubs and I saw Rogue One, which was fantastic and heartbreaking. It made me laugh and cry, like The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars trilogy. (We won’t talk about episodes I-III.)

In fact, we loved it so much that we went straight home and watched A New Hope, sitting on the couch with takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant. (This was New Year’s weekend and yes, we do know how to party.)

Watching those two films meant, of course, that we also had to watch The Empire Strikes Back (my personal favorite) and Return of the Jedi. We haven’t rewatched The Force Awakens yet, but I’d like to.

I love so many things about these movies – including the snappy dialogue, the ingenious technological devices, the frequent flashes of wry humor and the way R2-D2 always saves the day. But this time, I noticed something about when, and why, they made me cry.

There are moments in all three original films (and also in Rogue One) when a small, motley crew of rebels, who have usually gathered hastily from across the galaxy in response to a distress call or a preemptive strike by the Empire, must decide to go into battle. It usually looks like a fool’s errand: what chance do a few fighters have against the Empire’s sleek, massive fleet? Or, as a pilot says to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, “Two fighters against a star destroyer?”

The Rebel forces often seem scruffy and disorganized next to the Empire’s sharp lines of identically clad soldiers, and they know: bravery is no guarantee of success. Sometimes they’re receiving their marching orders when they are already under attack. But they always choose to face down the enemy, and they choose to do it together.

None of these moments are climactic in themselves: they happen before Luke makes the kill shot to destroy the Death Star, before the Millennium Falcon and her crew escape the Cloud City, before the final showdowns (there are several) in Return of the Jedi. They are the small decisive moments before the big battle scenes, when the rebels look each other in the eye and say: let’s do this. Together.

They know the stakes; they know they might not make it out alive. Some of them don’t; the death toll in all four movies struck me forcibly this time around. But they are willing to fight for the cause of freedom and justice, and they will walk into the mouth of hell itself – or fly straight toward Darth Vader’s ship – beside one another.

As C-3PO helpfully points out more than once, the deck is often stacked against them: the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field, for example, “are approximately 3,720 to 1!” But Han Solo and the rest aren’t interested in the odds: they’re going in. Together. And it makes me cry every time.

(Image via Google)

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red leaves green flats harvard yard

I wrote this line from Hamilton in my journal last week, sitting on a bench outside Darwin’s at lunchtime. I sipped broccoli cheese soup from a paper cup, dipping in a hunk of baguette, taking a few deep breaths under a blue October sky.

I’ve heard that line a few hundred times since May, when I started listening to Hamilton nonstop. But lately, in the middle of a full, demanding, often harried season at work and at home, it has caught my attention particularly. As I face the challenges of each day – work projects, church responsibilities, the utter madness of the current political cycle – it has resonated like a deep, echoing gong, or the deep breath before a duel.

Autumn is always a crowded time: the academic year revs up with events and classes, and I plunge headfirst into fresh assignments while keeping up with the daily obligations of my life. This fall found me adjusting to a still-new job and an even newer apartment, with all the changes both have entailed. The past several weeks have included some beloved rituals like apple picking and some other things I was excited about: a book club poetry potluck, a few dinners with people I love, an evening of glorious sacred music at a friend’s church downtown. Coming alongside all that heart-stirring loveliness have been many challenges, too numerous to list briefly and too personal (some of them) to explore publicly here.

In the middle of this fast and furious season, when heartache, to-do lists and big life questions have felt equally clamorous and insistent, I have been going quiet, turning inward, thinking hard. I’m reaching for my tried-and-true grounding rituals: weekly trips to the florist and the farmers’ market, daily walks to Darwin’s for sustenance and smiles, the weekday Morning Prayers service in a small chapel just off Harvard Yard. I have been scribbling madly in my journal, talking things out with my husband and a few trusted friends. And I am reaching for this Hamilton line, and other good words about courage, to shore me up, to fortify me.

I’ve never gone to war against an invading army, or faced down an enemy with a pistol. I’ve certainly never tried to build a brand-new nation out of a loose confederation of fractious colonies. But the story of these wild, visionary rebels is among the things saving my life these days. They were flawed, hotheaded and sometimes foolish, but they were also passionate and brave. Throughout the Revolution and the years that followed, they summoned the courage required of them, over and over again.

As I walk through these gorgeous, demanding fall days, I’m doing my best to do the same.

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brave stripes

“Will, I think you’re too brave to be a runaway.”

That wasn’t what Will had expected. She said, “I — what?”

“It is real life that takes the real courage, little wildcat. School is very difficult. But that’s because it takes toughness and patience. It’s what life is, my love. Although life is very beautiful, it is also very difficult.”

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell

In a season where every part of my life is requiring a lot of courage (see also: moving, new job, grief, other changes and transitions), these lines of Rundell’s resonated deeply. I’m posting them here as a reminder to myself, and to you, in case you need them too.

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katie pei beach

Several months ago, in the midst of my sixth Boston winter and a yearlong job hunt, I chose gumption for my one little word for 2016.

I’d spent 2015 trying to be gentle with myself and others – a reminder I needed frequently during a difficult year. But as the calendar flipped over, I decided I wanted something with a little more energy, a little more drive. Gumption, as embodied in The Holiday and elsewhere, tackles the tough stuff of life with a twinkle in its eye. I chose it knowing I’d need its particular combination of tenacity and spunk.

Midway through the year, I can say with certainty: I was right.

I spent the first few months of 2016 at a temp gig I loved, which gave me a safe place to land while continuing to balance the job hunt and other worries. That gig led to another temp assignment at Harvard, in a different office (literally) across the street, where I needed every bit of gumption I could muster to learn the ropes of a new place before diving into the swirl of Commencement. I don’t think I took a deep breath for the entire month of May.

Life on the sixth floor, wrangling stories and inquiries from all around Harvard, was a lot of fun, but it was a wild ride. I learned a lot of new systems and a few new skills, and I spent a lot – a lot – of time being brave and hanging on. (Longtime readers will know that brave, my one little word back in 2010, has become both a mantra and a talisman for me: I wear it around my neck and deep in my soul.)

Recently, I’ve been able to breathe a little easier: our trip to PEI and a new job (back in the same office where I temped this winter) have both helped me to feel more settled, less precarious. But I am diving into new responsibilities, and (soon) moving to a new apartment – both of which, not surprisingly, have their own requirements for gumption.

During this topsy-turvy year, gumption has come to mean both lightness and grit: doing hard things, or simply taking care of the business of life, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. It means sending that email, starting that conversation, tackling that work assignment, without taking it all too seriously. It means being brave enough to be a little silly sometimes. It means reaching across to connect with other people, even when I’m feeling shy or sad. It means speaking up when I can’t be silent any more, and it means knowing when to listen.

I have no doubt that the second half of 2016 will require yet more gumption of me. (See also: new job, new apartment and the resulting shifts in routine.) But I am also proud of the way I’ve handled the sweeping changes of the past year. As Iris (Kate Winslet) says near the end of The Holiday, “I think what I’ve got is something slightly resembling – gumption!”

iris gumption kate winslet the holiday

Here’s to more tenacity, grace, grit and spunk – more gumption – in the coming months.

Did you choose a word for this year? If so, how’s it going?

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rilla of ingleside book tulips

I’ve been thinking about Rilla Blythe lately.

Rilla is Anne Shirley Blythe’s youngest daughter, the last of the six children who grew up at Ingleside in the golden years before World War I. In August 1914, she’s nearly fifteen: pretty, pampered, a little spoiled, but still sweet. She’s never had to do many disagreeable things, apart from the occasional household chore. But when war erupts in Europe, it upends her entire world.

Rilla of Ingleside is the story of how the women of Ingleside – Rilla, Anne, their faithful cook-housekeeper Susan, and Miss Oliver, the local schoolteacher – grit their way through the dark days of war. It’s one of the lesser-known Anne books, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it a dozen times, and I love it so much.

As I make my way through both winter and the job hunt, a few lines from Rilla’s story keep coming back to me.

“I finished my sixth pair of socks today,” Rilla writes in her diary one evening. “With the first three I got Susan to set the heel for me. Then I thought that was a bit of shirking, so I learned to do it myself. I hate it – but I have done so many things I hate since 4th of August [when war was declared] that one more or less doesn’t make any difference.”

When war comes, both Susan and Rilla resolve, separately but with similar motivations, to be “as brave and heroic and unselfish” as they can be. Rilla’s declaration comes with italics and drama (she is fifteen, after all); Susan’s comes with a plain, old-fashioned sense of duty. They, and the entire village of Glen St. Mary, spend the next four years adjusting to new realities and, in the face of tragedy, simply doing what must be done.

They are no saints: they get frustrated, tired and worn down, and Rilla shares her troubles with the reader as she blows off steam in her diary. Even Miss Oliver says one day, in a rare moment of desperation, “There’s nothing heroic about me today. I’ve slumped.” But they always pick up courage and go on, helped in no small measure by letters from their boys at the front, and by one another.

I am in the middle of a few long, hard struggles, notably winter (we are now in the grit-your-teeth phase) and the continuing job hunt. I have to do a lot of things I’d rather not do, these days. But often, thinking about Rilla and her umpteen pairs of socks (and the many other tasks of wartime) helps me pluck up a bit of gumption to keep going. As she says to herself on a particularly difficult evening, “I must stay here and see things through.”

I’ve written often about how my fictional heroines keep me company or inspire me when things are rough. Do you have any fictional characters (or good words in general) that you draw on when you need wisdom or strength?

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christian cds nichole nordeman

Until recently, I thought I had grown too cool for Christian music.

Don’t mistake me: I love a good old-fashioned hymn, especially the ones that periodically set up camp in my soul: Be Thou My Vision. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I Love to Tell the Story (which I always hear my dad’s voice singing). Amazing Grace.

I’m also deeply attached to a few praise songs I learned as a university student: Holy is the Lord. In Christ Alone. Blessed Be Your Name. And oh, how I love the Magnificat.

But for a few years, the Christian contemporary music that filled my ears and my CD player during my high school and college years got pushed aside. I grew tired of the often formulaic melodies and refrains, the sometimes too-packaged theology. I’ve spent the past decade or so walking into a more complicated faith, one that leaves a lot of room for gray areas and messy edges. The bright, happy sounds of ’90s Christian pop didn’t seem to fit any more.

But earlier this year, Nichole Nordeman – whose music I have loved for nearly half my life – released her first new album in ten years, an EP called The Unmaking. I downloaded it a few weeks ago, and I cannot stop listening to the title track. The musical style is familiar, but the lyrics are wonderfully honest and fresh:

This is the unmaking / Beauty in the breaking / I had to lose myself to find out who You are. 

Even before that, during these last few difficult months, I’ve caught myself humming snatches of other songs I thought I’d forgotten, half-remembered lyrics that, to my surprise, still ring true.

Keep on looking ahead / Let your heart not forget / We are not home yet, from Steven Curtis Chapman (who headlined the first concert I ever went to). I believe that He loves you where you are, from Mark Schultz. Lines from Nichole’s older songs: Gratitude, Healed, Brave, We Build. On the night of the recent Paris attacks, sick with worry and fear, I finally soothed myself to sleep by singing an old Point of Grace line over and over in my head: God loves people more than anything.

These songs wouldn’t always pass muster in a theology class, nor would some of them win any awards for musical style or originality. But I don’t care about that as much as I used to. These familiar words and melodies (and the newer ones from The Unmaking) are bringing me comfort these days. They often say what I can’t articulate, or help succor me when I’m raw and hurting. These singer-songwriters are old friends, and their voices help me feel less alone.

I don’t plan to reconstruct my entire CD library from the early 2000s, but I’m keeping the songs that have come back to me. These are the good ones. And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I will definitely be humming Nichole’s song “Gratitude.”

I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey for her Out of Sorts book synchroblog. This post was partly inspired by the playlist she made to go along with the book.

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