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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Dreams Are Not Just for Olympians February 17, 2010

“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.”

–       Anais Nin

 It’s the month of the 2010 Olympic Games, and most of us have tuned in to watch as world athletes pursue their dreams of gold.  Have you noticed it’s not the win, however, that engages us, but rather the stories behind the medals?  The sacrifice, the repeated attempts and failures, the time running out, the family members in whose honor the athletes compete – all of these reasons draw us in and make us root for particular individuals.

And yet, dreams are not relegated to just athletes.  All of us have had our dreams.  And many of us have failed at these dreams.  It is one reason the struggle of these athletes resonates with us.

When I was a very little girl, my mom took me to ice skating lessons.  As I twirled around the ice, I dreamt of growing up to be an ice skater like the Olympians on TV.  As I got older and took writing classes in school, I dreamt of being a world-class journalist or an award-winning novelist.  In college, I went to film school and dreamt of being the next Steven Spielberg.  Later, my dreams resided closer to home – finding a knight in shining armor and having a family of my own.  Unfortunately, none of my dreams came true.

If you fail at your dreams often enough, it’s very easy to give up trying and to feel your life has been a failure.  But dreams are made of hope.  And as President Obama pointed out, hope is an audacious thing.  It doesn’t let go easily.  So what can you do if it’s obvious you won’t fulfill the dreams you had earlier in your life?

You have two options.  You can incorporate elements of those dreams into your current life.  For example, did you want to be an actress?  Then perhaps you can act in local community plays or direct a children’s theater production.  Did you dream of being the next Annie Leibovitz?  Then turn your photos into art to hang on your walls and give as gifts.  Did you want a house full of children but have none?  Volunteering at a children’s hospital can surround you with the love and fulfillment you miss while helping others who desperately need it.  And bringing those dream elements back into your life can help you feel strong and confident again.  You may not be famous, but you’ll be doing something you’ve always loved.  And that’s a wonderful validation of yourself.

In the event that incorporating your dreams into your current life is just too overwhelming, or seems too much like a lost cause, then pick a new dream.  The tricky part with this solution is that you need a dream you can fulfill, or else you’ll be left feeling bereft again.  The solution is to break the dream down into achievable steps so you feel an accomplishment each step of the way. For example, you’ve always wanted to make documentaries.  Go get a digital recorder.  Buy the necessary software for your computer.  Write an outline.  Do some research.  Get going.  You may decide to take filmmaking or editing classes.  You may just post your results online.  But along the way, you may find the happiness you’re searching for.  And isn’t that why we have dreams in the first place?

So in this month when dreams will come true for so many others, isn’t it time you reinvested in your own dreams?  While you may not win a medal, you could find happiness shining softly in your life again.  Your soul could feel validated, and your spirit could be lifted. You could even find some small part of yourself you lost along the way.  Isn’t that almost as good as a medal?  If you think so too, then I’ll see you back on that road to where dreams reside.

– Kandice