Saturday, February 15, 2014

Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

Anyone who knows me knows that I love journals. Give me a place to pen my thoughts, and I am a happy camper. Over the years, students and colleagues have given me any number of beautiful journals. Some, like the one made of red leather, I have considered too beautiful to mar with my sometimes erratic thoughts. Most of the time, I use a plain old spiral notebook (although I am getting better at using more elegant journals, so keep giving them!). Today, my daughter gave me a special journal.

The purpose of this little journal--which will slip neatly into my purse--is to remind me that it takes only "twenty seconds of insane courage" to change your life. The quote, in case you don't recognize it, comes from the movie We Bought a Zoo, which we watched on Thursday during another one of the endless snow days winter has given us this year. We liked the line so much that Bonnie and I, with career decisions to make, both posted it on Face Book.

Bonnie's decision will keep her in the same school and is, in that regard, a bit simpler than mine but still important to her. Mine could have far-reaching consequences. I am thinking, quite seriously, of leaving my full time job and spending more time on writing and building a tutoring service for adults.

For me to do such a thing is insane. It is ludicrous. But the idea has nagged at me for several years. In fact, all the way back to the summer I spent with the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, writing for six intense weeks in a modular classroom parked on the lot of West Chester University's Bull Center.

It was the first time I really shared my writing with anyone. I'd always liked to write and thought I was pretty good at it. But it never occurred to me that I had actual talent. There, in that hot trailer back in 1998, I heard colleagues say it again and again: "You are so good! Why aren't you a published writer?"

Why? Why, indeed. Because I am and have always been the good girl. Because, since before 1998, I have had to deal with an unstable husband and three children who needed me. Because I was afraid of failure. Because teaching is an acceptable career path and writing is unreliable. Because--I'll just say it--I lacked the courage.

Yet, since 1998, I have done many things that required a great amount of courage. I have spent fourteen years supporting my chronically ill husband, both financially and emotionally, in his complex recovery from a car accident in 2000. I have waited out 26 surgeries, several of which held his life in the balance. I have raised my three kids, practically alone, and all have graduated from college and none are felons. I have lost my beloved mother to a stroke and seen my daughter through the heart-break of a divorce. I have lost jobs and found jobs and worked far too many jobs. And, along with doing all of that, I have earned my graduate and post-graduate degrees, battled the vision problems caused by kertaconus, and found that along with a genuine love of teaching, I have a passion--a gift--for teaching adult students.

And, almost as a post-script to the above long list, I have written and published two books. Which, I am happy to say, people seem to love.

But I am still trying to find those twenty seconds of insane courage.

For years, I have told my adult students that they can choose, at any point in time, to change their lives and choose a different path. But I have continued to travel the same path, letting only circumstances divert me, but never stepping off.

I plod along, making ends meet but not ever really getting ahead, making a difference but always feeling as if I could do more, wanting more from life and more from myself. But, good girl that I am, I tell myself to just be grateful for what I have.

But today, on our way to Michael's to buy yarn because eight bins of yarn certainly means that we need more, I told Bonnie I was continuing to pray about her decision at work. Then she, daughter of my heart, told me this:

"Mom, you have so much to offer the world. I don't think even you know how special you are, how talented you are. And, yes, you can continue teaching full time and part time and taking on extra classes and you will make a difference in the lives of your students and your faculty. For some people, for most people, that would be enough.

"But you," she continued," are gifted. I see it. Everyone sees it. Take the chance, Mom. Be the writer you know you can be, that I know you can be. Set up your business and write and trust God. For just twenty seconds, be insanely courageous."

Later, at the check-out, she gave me this little journal with its telling message: At any given moment you have the power to say, "This is NOT how the story ends."

"This," she said to me, "is a place for you to keep those insane moments."

Two years ago, a new friend introduced to me Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way. A line from the book continues to reverberate with me: Step out and the net will appear.

 So, here is the question: Do I have enough talent, enough pure insanity, to put less of myself into taking on more and more work to provide a few more dollars, or do I put more of myself into what I feel I am called to do? Can I step out and trust in the net?

What is said about insanity is true, I think, You get it from your kids. I am getting mine, those twenty insane seconds, from my daughter.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Holy Pebbles

They were just little stones, pebbles really. They had been kicked along the path multiple times, rolling for a short distance, then falling into the dirt. Most people took no notice of them, unless one happened to lodge itself into a shoe or sandal. Once in a while, a small boy or two would pick up one and toss it high into the air, or skip it into the nearby stream. Just pebbles, that's all.

One day, though, those pebbles took on an unexpected and important role. A little boy, a shepherd boy, picked a few up, felt their weight in his hand, then slipped them into his pocket. Whistling, he went off to face a giant, a Philistine who had killed many people. When the boy got to where the giant stood, bellowing threats to the Israeli army, the boy fixed his carefully chosen pebbles into his slingshot, took expert aim, and fired at the giant's head.

The rest is history. The Israeli headlines, had there been any at the time, would have declared "Pebbles Pummel Philistine." The lowly pebbles had a brief moment of fame, then returned to the rubble. But if pebbles had the ability to think, they would have known that they had been used as servants of God.

Did you ever feel like a pebble, too small and lowly to be of any use to anyone? In the last act of "Camelot", King Arthur declares that we are all just specks of dust, soon forgotten, but that some of the specks "do sparkle." For those moments they sailed from David's little sling to the head of the Philistine giant, those pebbles sparkled! In Psalm 147:17, the grown up and now King David says, "He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?" (NIV). Enough pebbles can cause a lot of damage!

1985.52.997They can also be used for less war-like causes. At St. Adrian's Well in France, pebbles taken from the bottom of the well are believed to ward off diseases. They serve as relics to the faithful. And I myself once devoted an entire blog to a stone I had found on my mother's grave.

Aesop tells the fable of a crow who, near death from thirst, came upon a jug with a small amount of water on the bottom. But the neck of the jug was too long and the crow's beak could not reach the water. Thinking hard, the crow dropped a pebble into the jug and saw the water rise a tiny, tiny bit. Resolved, he dropped another pebble. Then another. I can only imagine the patience of the crow as pebble after pebble was dropped. At last, the water had risen enough that he could drink and be refreshed.

We pebbles are more powerful when we band together. On our own, we may only have a tiny amount of impact on the world. When we join forces, we can kill giants and rain down on our enemies and find a cure for cancer. None of us is too small or insignificant.

One of my favorite poems is Dylan Thomas' "Fernhill." As the poem spins out Thomas' memories of his grandparents' farm at Swansea, a particularly lovely line appeals to me: "And the Sabbath rang slowy in the pebbles of the holy streams." Ah, to be a holy pebble, floating in the stream, waiting to be picked up and used by God!

You never know when just such a pebble as you will be needed.