“that’s what the storm’s all about”

by christie shumate mcelwee

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The world right now is exhausting. I know I am tired. Tired of cruelty and stubbornness and ignorance and injustice. I am drained. When my head hits the pillow at night and tears flow, I know I have over-consumed too much of the bad that is out there. And boy, it is out there, waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce and eat us all alive with its venom.

My heart is drained. What I am mostly tired of is the judgment and shaming, and yes, it is coming from within. I judge. I shame. And it is tearing my joy into shards. I am the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride who shames Buttercup’s nightmares.

“Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The old woman was a manifestation of Buttercup’s conscience. She knew her love was out there, waiting. She was shaming herself because of the decisions she had made.

How do I move from becoming the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence? What is my conscience telling me about love? How do I maneuver this rocky and dangerous terrain and set aside my own judgment and shame? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these difficult questions. The sheer scope of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice have presented us with many challenges. The stories in the news can be confusing. Where is the truth? How do we model honor and decency for our children and grandchildren? Whom do we look toward for guidance? Wisdom? Empathy?

Once again, I am not sure I have any answers. All I do know is that my soul needs peace. I seem to be at odds with so many, yet I do know this: I believe in the virtue of love, the dignity of grace, and the importance of our collective humanity. 

I will choose not to lose heart. I will soften my judgment. I will look and listen and try to understand. All of this may sound simple and naive, but it is all I have and I am willing to hang onto these nuggets of hope.

I will get through these confounding days. If I have moments of despair, I will sit with them. When I see magic, I will acknowledge its presence. I will embrace joyful moments. Navigating this complicated labyrinth may be a daily challenge, but I am choosing to live my remaining years with tenderness. I will strive to let go of the sharp edges and learn to forgive others and myself. I will weather this storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is for certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
~Haruki Murakami

How am I weathering this storm? Through piles of books and yoga and good friends and fabulous food and music and hikes through glorious fields of wildflowers.

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” – Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

You’ve Always Had the Power, My Dear

It is the second Monday of the first month of this new year. The cinnamon sprinkled in my coffee gives me pause. I wait for it to brew as I contemplate my place in this land of ours. Who am I? Where are my brains? Where is my heart? Where is my courage? They are all here. I possess all three, yet there are many times I feel like that stumbling straw man or a creature made of hollow tin or a cringing ball of matted fur. I doubt my own worth. I believe the little man behind the curtain who bellows falsehoods and bullies the trembling. 

But…on this second Monday of the first month of a new year I gather my pink words and step forward with the burnt broom recovered from the wreckage. I muster my power and no longer quiver. A rumbling begins, soft at first but gaining momentum because these words are life. They are mine and only mine. I own them with my brain and my heart and my courage.

A twister didn’t have to drop my sorry ass on the yellow brick road in order to find my awakening. The sepia tones have transformed into freaking technicolor and it is stunning in its clarity. The cinnamon coffee is a magical brew. With each word written the flying monkeys scatter. Oh, they still hover, but I swat them away with a quick flick of my pink pen.

That scared gingham-clad girl is standing taller and speaking louder. Glinda the Good Witch whispers, “You had the power all along, my dear,” and I spy those fabulous ruby slippers. Damn, I’ve had them on all this time! I click my heels three times and summon the magic that has been smuggled in my frightened luggage of a soul.

The sun is out today. It shimmers on the frosted grass. Even on a frigid day its rays make it appear warmer.

So I gather up my brains and heart and courage, inspired by a bright star that lit up the the night sky the night before. I will write feverishly crazy colliding pink words. I will love with painful, gorgeous, wretched laughter-filled tears. I will summon my spirit even as my knees tremble with exquiste terror.

Because I am Dorothy. I am the Wicked Witch. I am Glinda. I am those damn ruby slippers. I am a stronger, more powerful version of me, skipping fearlessly into those poppy fields, not afraid of snowy dreams.

“For I consider brains far superior to money in every way. You may have noticed that if one has money without brains, he cannot use it to his advantage; but if one has brains without money, they will enable him to live comfortably to the end of his days.” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” 
― L. Frank BaumThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 photo from onceuponaspice.com
photo from onceuponaspice.com