My feet, remembering the joy of solitude in the woods. But no weigh-in today. Mid-RA training is not a time for self-induced stress!
For me, two weeks of every August, since 1996, have been spent in Resident Assistant (RA) Training. The 2012-13 RA staff moves in and begins training on Sunday. As usual, I am not really ready for this marathon of teaching and togetherness. However, also as usual, I know that I will end the training period grateful for the opportunity to be part of the lives of such amazing young people. The photo above is of my very first RA staff in 1996, snapped just after their mandatory fire extinguisher training, with members of the CRFD. I remember each of these students – their trials and tribulations, the late night rounds we stumbled through, the laughter we shared. Just remembering humbles me with the awareness of how privileged I have been.
When I dare to be powerful…
Mostly, I forget that I have power. I forget or stop believing that I have volition, choice. What I remember is what we were all taught to remember: to follow the rules, to play nice, to do what I’m supposed to do or have been told to do. I don’t take issue with having been taught these things – they are one part of the equation of being a person with character and integrity. But there is another piece we should all have been taught – that part of being an adult of character is knowing when and how to break rules that are inappropriate, to play hard when it is called for, to say “It is MY responsibility to decide what I’m supposed to do”. The rare occasions when I dare to be powerful truly require every ounce of emotional strength I can muster, to go against the programming of my youth. However, I’m beginning to learn something important – like all muscles, it gets stronger when used. The more I exercise my power, my choice, my voice, the more powerful I become.
To use my strength in the service of my vision…
My vision? To use anything in service to my vision, I need to have a vision. Friends, for so many years I confused “vision” with “fuzzy daydream about the future”. They are, unsurprisingly, NOT the same! What differentiates a vision, for your life and/or the world you hope to live in, from a daydream? One, steadfastness. You have it and are able to hold it in front of you. Two, actions. You are able to identify – and TAKE – steps necessary to achieve the vision you steadfastly hold before you. Three, a convicted heart. Each step you take convinces your inner being that you are moving in the right direction, no matter how hard or how much it requires you to exercise your power.
Then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
Because I AM afraid. Afraid I’ve made the wrong choice, chosen a vision that wasn’t my highest calling. When I exercise my power in service to my vision, I stand alone to bear responsibility for the consequences of my choosing. I’d rather blame someone or something else if it doesn’t turn out well. (But she told me to do it! I was only following orders. That’s what we were instructed to do in training. Its in the policy manual.) I like having someone or something else to blame, it feels more secure, less exposed. Really? Accepting responsibility for my own life is what makes me afraid? (Until I wrote that, I didn’t know I felt that way. Now I have a mental picture of myself, the “cheese” standing alone, quaking in my boots.)
However, as Cheryl Strayed says in Wild, fear is a story we tell ourselves. We can tell ourselves a different story – one in which fear is less significant because we are using our power in service to something important. We can tell ourselves an empowering story. We can tell ourselves, “I’m not THAT afraid.” (True story: I once talked myself out of a panic attack while driving cross-country alone by telling myself this story over and over – ‘The sun is shining. I am well. I didn’t run over the turtle. I will be safe.’ The only parts I knew for sure were true were the shining sun and the lucky, still alive, turtle.)
What is so important that we should practice using our power in service to it? What is important enough to teach ourselves the contours of courage (which, contrary to some inspirational quotes, doesn’t come naturally to most of us). Simply this: to be who we were meant to be. To live the life we were born to live. That is the ultimate personal responsibility we bear – to be fully the unique and sacred persons we were created to be. When we dare to be powerful, to use our strength in service to our vision, fear becomes irrelevant – still painful, still hard – but irrelevant. Because what is relevant is the vision we are bringing to life in our lives and in our world.
This image is a collage of photographs created for the front of a handmade card friends sent to my brother and I after we moved from Loveland, Ohio to Dubuque, Iowa. I was a senior in high school (my brother Jeff, a junior) and we had a wonderful group of friends cultivated through an ecumenical youth group called Inter-Church Youth – or I.C.Y. I came across this card while searching through boxes of “important” documents looking for a needle in a haystack. This made me smile, and allowed the task to feel more like a treasure hunt than coal mining.
Let me explain what I meant – and it wasn’t for everyone to stand in the streets of Springville, Iowa-though I believe there could be worse fates. We had just finished what proved to be the hardest 10 miles of a 208-mile bicycling adventure (three consecutive days of RAGBRAI). With a sore body operating on little sleep, the 10 mile leg just completed, consisting of lots of climb against a strong headwind, called upon every reserve I had. This middle day of the ride was “supposed” to be the easy one, too. What a betrayal of my expectations!
As Tricia and I pulled into town, the members of our team who had arrived ahead of us flagged us down. We explored the town, grateful for the food and beverage options and for the hospitality of the local Methodist church which allowed us to used their indoor bathrooms. Take it from me: porta-potties used by thousands of bicyclists are not the preferred option. We had some time to kill before our last two teammates arrived, which meant real leisure to soak up the ambience.
People of all shapes, sizes, abilities, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds swelled the small town’s usual population of around one thousand to nearly ten times that. Banners flapped in the stiff breeze, music came at us from every direction, colorful costumes and jerseys caught our attention. The sun beat down on us and sweat caused our spandex-laden clothing to stick to our bodies. I downed a bottle of blue Gatorade with relish – something I would normally avoid as exuberantly as I avoid eating liver.
As I watched the spectacle and felt myself just one more colorful piece of it, I experienced one of those rare moments of clarity in life. This exact moment that I was living in with such joy, I would once have shunned. The July heat. The crowds. The physical exertion. The athletic, ebullient, friendly, happy individuals surrounding me.
Until the recent past, I eschewed entering fully into my own life. I stayed away from situations that called upon either my inner resources or the direct experience of strangers. In that way, I kept my world small and my life manageable. I felt safe but I rarely felt joy. I felt “in control” but never expansive.
All of that has changed, and my life is so much richer for it. Suddenly, standing in the middle of the street in Springville, my heart paradoxically wholly open and completely full, I realized: it isn’t enough to want these things for myself. It isn’t enough to continue to work on my own growth and development. To know and experience my own “before and after” is to want that for anyone else holding back from fully living their own lives.
You know who you are – those of you waiting for something to change in your life in order for you to feel happier, better understood, more passionate. Those of you who feel stuck in a place you never really intended to be. Those of you who feel called to…something else, even if you don’t quite know what that is. For each of you, I want the more you’re longing for. The future you don’t quite know how to reach. And I promise you two things. First, I promise that I will continue to hold your heart’s desire in my thoughts and in my prayers. Second, I promise that whenever the opportunity arises to offer something tangible – and within my power or ability to give – by way of support or encouragement to another late-bloomer (like me, like you) I will.
You may feel like a bedraggled weed, but you’re really a beautiful flower. You may not, just yet, believe in yourself or in your ability to change your life. But I already believe in you. After all, I’m just another slow-blossoming flower on the midwestern prairie – if I found a way to fully open my petals and bask in the sun, so can you.