Courage – Would you have enough?

Harriet Tubman – abolitionist who liberated more than 700 slaves.

Harriet Tubman. Oskar Shindler. Esther. People iconic for their courage and the bold actions they took to save the lives of others, actions that put their own lives at risk.

Every time I hear a story about someone who stands up to society, their peers, their family – someone who goes against the norm – to right an injustice, I wonder if I would be so brave. Fortunately, I have never had to put my own life on the line; fortunately, most of us never have to.

But most of us do encounter events in our daily lives when we see something happening that we know is wrong. Then we face the choice: engage or walk away, speak up or remain silent.

I confess, I have failed the test more often than I like to admit. One time in particular sticks in my mind.

For 30 years I worked in the public relations business, a job that sent me all over the United States interviewing farmers, veterinarians, and scientists who used my clients’ products. One trip to a North Carolina tobacco farm in 1977 opened my eyes to race relations as I’d never experienced it before, while leaving life-long scars on my heart.

As the interview wound down, the farmer and I were standing in the yard, exchanging pleasantries about the weather and local sports teams. Just then a young black boy, maybe eight or nine years old, came out of the barn.

“Hey, Joseph.” The farmer waved him over. “You need to dance for this lady.”

The boy stood, his arms limp at his sides, his bare feet covered in the soft dust of the lane.

I blanched. Dance for the lady? “Oh, no,” I excused myself. “I need to be going.”

“He likes to do it. He’s a real good dancer,” the farmer insisted.

The boy looked at me. I cannot recall if I smiled or even met his eyes.

Dance for the lady? All I could think about was slave owners forcing their slaves to entertain visitors. Sweat poured down my neck. Thunder roared in my ears. My eyes swam. I wanted no part of this. Yet I could see no way out.

The boy danced for me. And I said nothing.

Why? Out of some misguided sense that I would offend the farmer, my client’s customer? Because I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say? Because I was a coward? I really don’t know. What I do know is that I will always wear the shame of not stopping that demeaning act.

Confronted with a blatant injustice today, I hope I would do better, that I would have the courage to act. But who knows for sure? The circumstances are seldom simple, the decisions seldom clearcut.

The question of if, when, and how to engage in the face of injustice is at the heart of the novel I’m writing now. In the course of her work as a consultant, my main character must face her own biases and decide how long she can remain on the ‘it’s not my job’ fence.

The story is autobiographical only in that the issue is one I’ve always thought about. Like me, my main character doesn’t always get it right.

What has your experience been in speaking up – or not – when you saw something that seemed unfair?

What challenges would you like to tackle?

Inspiration to take big steps often comes from others.

When I was 51 years old, I screwed up my courage and left behind the title, the pay check, and the prestige of the corporate world to become a writer. Many things contributed to my ability to make this huge move, but among them was seeing others who’d been brave enough to take a chance and pursue their dreams. My experience is true for many. We take courage from – we’re inspired by – those who’ve gone before.

Today, I’m sharing books that  include the inspiring and encouraging stories of many writers. I’m honored to be among the writers included in these anthologies.

TYIG_Four_covers_11-25The Tending Your Inner Garden series includes four books of essays and poems contributed by many women writers.

According to editors Diane Glass and Deb Engle, “The voices of women across the country and globe speak of the joys and sorrows of everyday life, as well as those pivotal moments when life surprises us and prompts us to rethink our values and priorities.”

The writings in these books explore what women have learned from the four seasons:

  • Fall – The Season of Wisdom and Gratitude
  • Summer – The Season of Beauty and Resilience
  • Spring – The Season of Hope and New Beginnings
  • Winter – The Season of Rest and Renewal

The Tending Your Inner Garden books are available as a set or individually at the TYIG Book Store. and individually on Amazon.

My Gutsy Story AnthologyInspiration also comes from around the world through the My Gutsy Story Anthology. Editor Sonia Marsh told the story of her family’s gutsy adventure in a memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops. Since then she’s encouraged others to share their own gutsy stories. She’s collected the stories of 65 writers in the anthology she published this year. It’s available on Amazon.

According to Marsh, “What makes these stories unique is the authors’ willingness to openly share the obstacles they surmounted, and the strength they developed to overcome doubt, fear, rejection, and grief. These stories of love, courage, and adventure will inspire you to follow their lead and experience your own gutsy adventure.”

The approaching new year prompts many of us to consider where we are in our lives and what might be next. Those resolutions may go by the wayside because we think the task is too big or we can’t see how to do it.

If you or someone on your gift list could use inspiration to take that next big step, you just might find that encouragement in these books.

Profiles in teenage courage

"Harriet Tubman" by Jane DeDecker

“Harriet Tubman” by Jane DeDecker

Could I have been so brave? That’s the question I found myself asking yesterday as my travels took me to the Clinton Presidential Library, to sculptures like this one of Civil War abolitionist Harriet Tubman along the Little Rock riverfront, and finally to Little Rock Central High School.

In 1957, nine black teenagers, dubbed “The Little Rock Nine,” stood up – stood against – segregation to attend previously all-white Little Rock Central High School. The naivete they operated under on the first day they showed up for classes was soon erased as the angry crowds that met them each morning became increasingly hostile and the National Guard troops present in the first days were replaced by ill-prepared and frightened city police.

Yet they continued to brave the gauntlet, never faltering, never letting anyone see them cry. They feared for their lives and yet they continued to show up. Only when President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Army with bayonets fixed did those teenagers begin to feel safe again. And even then, their fight was far from over.

The Old Testament of the Bible includes the book of “Esther,” which is the story of a Jewish girl who becomes queen to a powerful king. While she is queen, the king is convinced to give the order to kill all the Jews. Esther’s uncle tells her she must go to the king and convince him not to carry out the order. But Esther fears for her life. If she goes to the king when he hasn’t called her, she could be killed. (Harsh, yes, but that was the law.)

Esther’s uncle says to her: “if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 New International Version)

The bravery of these black teenagers in 1957 astounds me. Times were such that if they had chosen not to walk the gauntlet in Little Rock, it is likely that someone else would have eventually done it – just as Esther’s uncle advised her. But also like Esther, the Little Rock Nine were there at a time and a place in our history when they could step up and make a difference. They looked hatred in the face, and they kept moving forward.

Children if you are tired, keep going.
If you’re hungry, keep going.
If you’re scared, keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.
— Harriet Tubman