Everywhere I turn lately, I seem to bounce into the theme of fear and bravery.
It is difficult not to fear terrorism, and events of late have certainly given me pause, not to mention unpleasant memories. It is strange to have such an intimate knowledge of what those families are going through. Many people were struck by the eloquence of the Parisian husband who lost his wife, when he said,
“I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.”
He writes of his 17 month old son:
“his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.”
I understood completely. I wrote the day after Paris, “If terrorists could see the ripple effects of power and strength that is the ultimate result of their cowardly acts, they would stop bothering with violence.”
In the face of fear, anger and heartbreak terrorists impose on the world, courage, forgiveness and love are more effective than bombs.
I was struck by an article in the NYTimes this weekend about three women who escaped ISIS. They were married off to ISIS soldiers, but fell in love with them. ISIS leaders prevented these newly married couples from having children, knowing that children would make those husbands poor soldiers and suicide bombers. These women all became grieving widows and escaped. ISIS knows the power love has over terrorism.
I know it’s simplistic to think that through acts of bravery and love we can melt all the terrorists away, like Dorothy throwing water on the bad witch, but I do believe that the power of story may have the same effect. That father’s story is a perfect example.
The very act of writing story requires courage. Speaking or writing truth is a brave act, and in telling our stories we break through fear by sharing our truth with others, giving them the courage to do the same.
I saw Elizabeth Gilbert a few weeks ago talking about her new book, Big Magic, about her ideas for living “beyond fear.” In Big Magic, she explores the need for courage in finding and living a “creative” life. She writes about poet, Jack Gilbert (no relation), recounting a story about telling one of his students when she admitted she wanted to be a writer:
“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”
As an adolescent growing out of a very fearful childhood, she writes,
“I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!'”
In Cheryl Strayed’s interview with Gloria Steinem, talking about her new book My Life on the Road, one of the predominant themes was overcoming fear, being brave in the face of adversity and using the power of story to affect change. Some great lines from the evening:
“The scariness of writing comes from caring”
“Just telling each other our stories is the single most revolutionary act.”
“We make the invisible part of us visible so we can intertwine our experiences”
The next night, my friend Theo Nestor interviewed Cheryl Stayed about her new book, Brave Enough. Cheryl spoke a lot about the death of her mother and how it affected her life, how she immersed herself in whatever took the pain away, until she undertook her adventure of walking the Pacific Coast Trail, which she writes about in her book Wild.
Cheryl’s new book is full of great quotes, but this one nails the fear theme:
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. That nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked. Every time I felt something terrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away. I simply did not let myself become afraid. Fear begets fear. Power begets power. I willed myself to beget power. And it wasn’t long before I actually wasn’t afraid.”
Not only are these messages coming in the face of renewed terrorism in the world, but they come just as I am trying to climb my own wall of fear in writing my memoir, which right now is called “Sex and the Single Widow.” This is a scary book to write, and yet a story I want to tell. I am again trying to write the book I wish I had as I recovered from the devastation of Arron’s death. Dating and sex after loss was an abyss of confusion and guilt and hope and longing, fear and courage and love. But to write it, I am going to have to reveal secrets that are scary to reveal.
I sent my proposal to Susie Bright, a well-known writer on the subject of sex and she stated my dilemma eloquently:
“I would commit to the form where you can be the most viciously honest and unsparing of the sex, the anger, the grief, no punches pulled at all. No soft landings on the hard parts or the visceral or thrill or obsession. I mean, eventually, there are a lot of soft places, but the challenge with memoir on this subject is one likely has a lot of living eyes upon you and there is an urge to protect them. I would feel that way, anyway.”
Can I do this? I don’t know. But Elizabeth, Gloria, Cheryl and Susie all seem to think so, so I guess I will give it my best shot. I am going to will myself to not be afraid because telling my story is a revolutionary act.