Each year for the past few years, maybe on and off a bit, I’ve picked a word for myself. That word was usually focused on my writing, because, well, I’ve been pretty darned lucky, and I have room and ease in my life so I could focus on my writing.
This year feels a little different. Okay, it feels a lot different. On the one hand, I still have a life of room and ease, and I feel relatively safe from the things I fear are coming down the road. On the other hand, I know I may NOT be safe–I’m a woman and I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal…all groups who are already coming under attack and who will almost certainly continue to be attacked.
Still, the odds are decent that, if I chose to, I could tuck myself into my sheltered little life, duck my head, and come out relatively unscathed.
But I don’t want to. I want to stay out of my shell, keep my head out of the sand, and fight.
This will take, I’ve been thinking, courage. Which is the word I’ve been leaning toward for 2017. And which, ironically, I’ve been leaning away from, too…out of fear.
And then, today, I picked up my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, thinking I’d start a reread to get inspired for the next year of writing. And almost immediately I came across a description of what a poet named Jack Gilbert (no relation) told some of his writing students.
“Most of all, though, he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of their capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small–far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be.”
I was not a brave child, teen, or young adult. Cravings for adventure? I had none. Impulse control? Enough for a dozen kids. Fear of what MIGHT go wrong? Drove most of my decisions (usually to NOT try something). Growing up and growing older has been, in many ways, a process of growing braver.
In the past few years, I’ve thought that maybe I had got “there,” that I was a good level of brave, that I didn’t have to keep stretching myself. And then November 8 happened and now January 20th is right around the corner, and I find myself thinking about bravery and wondering–yet again–if I’m brave enough. And, honestly, dreading having to get back into that stretching place.
But in one paragraph, Jack Gilbert and Elizabeth Gilbert reminded me that bravery and growth isn’t only about the struggle, but also about the growth of capacities and richnesses we maybe just can’t see yet. They reminded me of all the rewards I’ve claimed whenever I did step out of my safe spot and taken a risk (which so many other people wouldn’t even see as a risk). They made me sit up and look around at the bigger, happier life I have, because–sometimes in very small steps and occasionally in leaps–I was being brave.
So, it may be just semantics, but I’m setting aside “courage” for 2017 and choosing “bravery” instead. The bravery to get my introvert self out there, with people and crowds and noise, and find some way I can volunteer and make a difference. The bravery to make a time commitment and stick to it, when maybe (probably!), I just want to go home, hold my cat, and read my book. The bravery to attach my name and identity to my beliefs, in public and in person.
And, on the other side, the bravery to take care of myself and choose to tuck myself away when I need it, trusting that almost 3 million people voted for Hilary Clinton and Tim Kaine and against Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and that some of them will keep the shields up if I’m not there that day or week. The bravery to actively look for and at the good things people are doing for each other every day and to soak in that goodness, not discount it as not enough. The bravery to find balance between valid worrying and overall happiness. And, finally, yes, the bravery to carve out time for my writing–unselfishly because words and stories are important, and selfishly, because the writing nourishes and sustains me.
Have you got a word for 2017?