26 June 2013

Small Turnings on a Great Journey

I skim the surface of most political debate that pops up on my FB page; but when every fourth post was about Wendy Davis the other day, I did a little research to find out "Who is Wendy Davis?"

It's apparently pretty easy to fall in love or flare into hatred with people we only know from the publicity surrounding them. I'm not in love with Wendy. I am inspired by what I've learned about her personal life and public career. There's something in her story that speaks to the universal search for meaning in life.

Watching a short video clip of her filibuster my imagination wandered to consider what was going on for her the night before she took the mic in the Texas statehouse. I can't think of a single thing I've done in my life that comes close in terms of courage but I've had some night-before-the-big-game experiences -- on the eve of a performance, for example. You know that tomorrow is a Big Day. You feel there's a lot at stake. You are awed by the breadth of possible outcomes and humbled by your absolute inability to have even a tiny clue about how things will turn out.

You're maybe a little scared. Or maybe a lot scared. Every now and then you think "What am I doing?!" and break out in a cold sweat; but you tell yourself to calm down, to give that kind of thinking no attention. That you want to do this. It's important that you do this. It'll be OK.

A recurrent thought  for me the night before a Big Day is "Wow....this time tomorrow..."  I'll be onstage or I'll be taking a bow -- it'll all be over. The inexorable forward flow of Time fascinates me. Nothing lasts forever and there's always a next moment, a next thing.

(The contrast is stark between the experiences on either side of an event. The night before, it is a mystery; the night after, it's a known quantity. On the front end--trembling uncertainty, blindness; on the other side confident basking in a job well done or a lesson learned.)

I call it merely brave when, despite fear, I take the stage (or step in front of a classroom). I call Ms. Davis' stand heroic. The difference? For one thing, she walked into a much larger arena. Whatever you think you know about what awaits on the other side of an event, all bets are off if the event is witnessed by throngs of people who you don't know, who will probably never meet you or hear your back-story, but who, through the wonders of modern technology, will be able to react and interpret and discuss and spin off from whatever they think they heard you say or saw you do..

For another thing, she already knew there were monsters waiting for her inside. She's a woman. She's pretty. She's smart. She's a Democrat. The issue is abortion. It's Texas.

Grief Transforming
Artist:  Cynthia Lee  - for more about the painting, http://spirituncaged.com/2013/03/27/grief-transforming/                                                                             
She also likely heard some good reasons NOT to do it from people who care about her. Maybe some of them are people she looks up to, people who know more about this or that than she does. And there were probably some "What good will it do?" voices in the mix, too.

Research reveals she has substantial experience with facing daunting mystery, with standing on this side of A Day to Remember. She was a single parent at age 19. I was a little older than that when I became a single parent, but close enough in age for a reality-based sense now of what it took for her to move from that situation to graduating with a law degree from Harvard. The first in her family to graduate from college. Yeah, I stood on that threshold, too.

What does it take to keep your eye on a prize? To do what you gotta do when you're well aware you don't know how to do it? To follow a deep inner prompting when really excellent reasons to ignore those promptings present?

I don't know exactly. It took me 20 years to finally graduate from college; and outside of amassing a student loan so great that I will never be able to repay it, I don't have much to show for it. The "prize" I sought initially each time I enrolled in school was an escape from poverty and the humiliation of doing work I despised. In retrospect, I think I lost sight of the "prize" and was repeatedly distracted by the excitement and vitality of the pursuit of knowledge. Enthralled by intellectual stimulation I completely forgot about staying in the game for a successful, well-paid career.

I thought about how Wendy felt, what she was thinking, as the hours of the filibuster ticked by. About the nature of her experience after 20 minutes....3 hours....8 hours.... I wondered if her confidence wavered at all and how she handled it, all the while maintaining her public face. At the end she said her back hurt; and I thought about the way physical reality impacts our commitment to an idea. The marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965...among that crowd, how did thirst or sore feet or menstrual cramps affect their commitment to the project in progress?

What's it take? What goes on backstage, inside, as a momentous event unfolds in the life of an individual? I imagine a solo show that consists entirely of the inner dialogue of a person on a mission. A complete transcription of the thoughts of a marathon runner, for example. Or a single mom, from the onset of labor through delivery.

I think about how this blog is something like that. Notes from the road. Except I don't know where I'm going.