Tonight I wrote down on a paper “leaf of courage” what I wanted strength for to help bring into my life. The list was quite long this year. I placed the leaf in a bonfire that was lit as part of the Michaelmas Festival at my children’s school.
This summer I started a new position at a school in a city an hour and a half away from my home.
One afternoon my daughter started to cry when I picked up my children from my mom’s house after work. My daughter asked me, “Why did you take that new job in Seattle?” I replied, “You missed me today and wish I wasn’t gone as much?” She said, “It’s not just that I miss you today but I will miss you when you aren’t there when school starts. Why didn’t you just stay at our school?”
The commute, meeting new colleagues, and new responsibilities were all a big adjustment for me. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t asked myself that same question already. I said to her, “I’m not sure why I took this job. But something led me to this new experience and I feel it is a part of me living out my calling. Sometimes in life you have to challenge yourself.”
A few days later my daughter got out some Heelys and tried them for the first time. It was really hard and she fell a few times as she tried to get the hang of it. But she was persistent and finally she was able to move more freely with them on. While she was practicing, she looked over at me and said, “I”m challenging myself! I’m challenging myself.”
Later in the summer, she was riding her bike. She rode by holding on to the handlebars with only one hand, calling to me, “I’m challenging myself! I’m challenging myself!”
She kept looking for new ways to challenge herself and would even check in with me about my own experience, too.
One night, as I was saying goodnight to her, she whispered to me, “I wish you didn’t take that job in Seattle… but I want you to do a good job.”
Today I shared this story in a circle of women as part of our study and preparation for tonight’s Michaelmas festival at Whidbey Island Waldorf School (WIWS). The theme of the festival is courage. It also speaks to transformation, inner preparation, strength, truth, and justice. Each of us shared a story of courage from our lives and how we see courage in the world. Women shared stories of being open to new relationships even in the face of fear from past experiences, loving our bodies, especially as we get older and notice changes, and addressing conflict directly and without any expectations of how the other person will respond. We spoke of facing extraordinary crises, as well as everyday challenges and expectations.
One person talked about being surrounded by an obviously daunting task when another woman came up and asked, “Do you need help?” Her initial response was, “No, I’m fine.” But looking around it was clear that was not the case. She was able to take up courage and ask for help. And through that support not only did the task ahead of her get done more easily but a connection with the other person was strengthened.
Why do we find it challenging to ask for help? Why do we think we must be able to do it all — and do it on our own? Is that strength or is true strength found in the ability to find our voice and reach out into community?
We talked about socialization and the implicit messages we were given as we were growing up. Some of those messages were not helpful to us and we are still trying to undo them now. We have to be so conscious of these unspoken expectations as our daughters and sons look to us to understand the world.
And we talked about the great challenges facing the planet.
Through our conversations we started to see the strength in ourselves, in one another, and, especially, in the young people who are inspiring change.
When we finished our conversation some of us went out to create an altar for our festival. We included photos of these four activists as faces of courage.
May they bring us hope and inspire us to find our voice and challenge ourself everyday.
I attended the festival this evening and watched as the children participated in an outdoor pageant in the midst of thunder, lighting, and rain. (Not too much thunder and lightening — but it was wet.) I’m sure there were some feeling nervous and afraid to perform in front of a group. But the mood that carried out was of community and joy. After the play, we all had apple crisp and stood together singing around a bonfire.
I think about my “leaf of courage” now as I sit in front of the first fire of the season at my home and I’m so thankful to be surrounded and supported by the warmth of my community. I can take courage and find my voice… and I don’t have to do it alone.
Photo credit of Autumn Peltier altar detail: Jennifer Savage