The Women That Strength Built

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You and Me Together, Helping Each Other January 19, 2011

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

                 Two things coincided in my life this January.  We celebrated the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I just finished reading The Help set during the start of the Civil Rights Movement.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read the New York Times Bestseller, you may find a synopsis useful.  Set in Mississippi in the early 1960’s, The Help tells the story of several black women who risked sharing their stories during those troubled times.  At risk to their jobs, their families, even their own lives, these women shared both the good and the bad of their daily work situations.  Two women in particular, Minny and Aibileen, take us through their challenges and heartbreaks.  Skeeter, the white writer who records their stories, takes her own risks as well, and in the process loses her friends, her boyfriend, and eventually her hometown.  Kathryn Stockett’s point as she tells this story seems to be that we are all the same at heart.

                While reading this book, I was taken back to an uncomfortable time in my own life.  While I was just a baby during the time outlined in The Help, I still faced the consequences of the Civil Rights Movement during my middle school years.  The school I attended in Seattle was still undergoing busing for integration.  None of the kids were happy with the situation.  While we didn’t understand the reasons for the process, we did know everyone had difficulty getting along.  One day in gym class, I was approached by two black girls.  I was running late for class, and I was the only one left in the locker room.  (At this point, I should probably state that I’m white.)  The two girls were known bullies in the school, and they started hassling and picking on me.  At some point, it turned physical.  I was crying and trying to think of a way to get out of there, when another student walked through the locker room door.  She was a big girl, heavy and slow-moving usually, but quick to come to my aid that day.  She walked right up to the other two girls and told them to leave me alone.  She took my arm and walked me right out of there, onto the gym floor, where she sat me down and stayed next to me for the remainder of class.  For the next few weeks, she kept her eye on me whenever we were in gym class together.  I was never more grateful for a friend, even though I barely knew her.  Did I mention she was black?

                I don’t know that I agree that we’re all the same at heart.  Some of us are strong, courageous, and rebellious, just like some of the characters in Stockett’s book.  Others of us are vulnerable and need help and protection.  Some of us can be heroines and some of us may be victims.  But all of us have the right to find out who we truly are and what we can make of ourselves – without fear for our lives, our homes, and our families.  Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for that right – not just for blacks but for all of us.  If, as a woman, you are looking for strong female role models, I urge you to read Stockett’s book.  Her characters are both strong and vulnerable, even while facing discrimination, spousal abuse, and threats to their lives and security.  And if you are among the many that need help, it’s there – although it may come from the most unlikely place.  Sometimes you have to ask.  Sometimes it just shows up.

               All these years later I’d like to say “thank you” to my youthful heroine.  Thank you for saving a scared 11-year-old.  Thank you for stepping in.  Thank you for having the courage to help.  I hope that help has been returned to you many times over.  May you prosper and continue to be amazing! 

– Kandice

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Grace. It Is Amazing. May 17, 2010

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

–       Leo Buscaglia

            Grace.  Everyone knows what it is when they experience it.  Webster’s defines it as “unmerited assistance coming from God.”  However, they also define its synonym, mercy, as “lenient or compassionate treatment (bestowed by anyone).”  As such, grace or mercy can be shown by anyone to any other living creature on earth.  That means you can bestow grace or mercy on others.  Even more interesting is that while you probably know forgiveness is important, forgiveness is not necessary for grace.  Let me give you an example.

            A few years ago I was going through a divorce.  Let’s just say I did not feel forgiveness, mercy or grace for my ex.  In fact, I felt anything but.  After years of emotional abuse and then losing absolutely everything through the divorce, I could not even comprehend thinking of him in a positive way.  I don’t explain this to point blame, as I know I was somewhat at fault for our failed marriage as well.  But I offer this background as a way to give you some idea of my mindset when the following occurred.

            At the time of this story, I was working in a bookstore after losing a business I’d spent years building.  I was just trying to survive day-to-day.  The only thing that made me happier was actually being able to help the customers in the store.  One day a woman asked me if we had any books on how to survive abusive relationships.  I showed her what we had and helped her check out after she’d made her choice.  I had met many women recently who had been in abusive marriages so I also shared with her some community resources I’d heard of that might be of assistance as well.  One thing that struck me was that she exuded peace and contentment.  I couldn’t understand how that could be the case if she was in an abusive situation herself.  I was curious as to how she could exude such positive feelings as compared to my negative ones.  As we spoke, she said she was actually looking for the book to help someone she knew.

            It turns out that she had been married to an abusive man just a couple of years before.  They were divorced, and he was now remarried.  His new wife was somewhat functionally disabled.  The customer I was helping explained that she was buying the book for the new wife.  The customer said she had tried to befriend the new wife because she felt she needed help.  Apparently the new wife had no family and no one to turn to for help.  My customer said she knew how abusive her ex could be and was still struggling to resolve her feelings about him.  But she wanted to do everything she could for this other woman.  She said simply, “She’s going to need help from someone one of these days soon.  I want to do whatever I can to be there for her.”

            After she left, I was dumfounded.  Here I was wallowing in my grief while she had stepped outside herself to provide mercy to someone else.  I felt very strongly that I had been touched by the wings of Grace as it passed by.  Not only did this woman reach out to make someone else’s life better, but she inadvertently changed the lives of those who witnessed this act as well.  There are scientific studies that show that an act of compassion not only changes the lives of the parties involved, but also the lives of anyone witnessing the exchange.  I believe that.  That event has stayed in my heart to this day.  And every time I’m tempted to lash out at someone who has hurt me, I remember the lady I met that day.  If another human being is capable of grace, then we all are.  So while I may not be able to forgive everyone that’s hurt me, I can find a way to show compassion to others who have been injured by life’s blows.

            It may not be something that’s occurred to you before, but you can start looking for ways to spread grace and mercy to those you encounter.  While it may take a little effort on your part, especially if you’re feeling hurt, think what a significant impact it can have on others’ lives.  While I’ve never had the opportunity to be as generous as the lady I met at the bookstore, I have had the chance to ease peoples’ lives a little as they passed my way.  And if someone’s life is a little easier because of me, then maybe I did what I was put on this earth to do.  I certainly hope so.  Nameste

– Kandice