Desperately seeking Atticus

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I believe her. I will always believe her.

I need your help. I need your help to get through the next couple of days. Probably longer. Probably a lot longer. It’s as simple as that. And I promise to help you, too. The faux FBI investigation of Brett Kavanaugh is “completed”, and he will most certainly be confirmed by the Republican majority in the Senate. And after we scream and rant and weep, we will desperately try to hang on to everything we thought we knew about truth and justice and…kindness.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation was perhaps inevitable, but I had a flicker of hope after Dr. Ford’s wrenchingly raw testimony last Thursday that maybe, just maybe, this seminal moment in our nation’s history would not be viewed in only red and blue lenses. Truth has a crystalline quality – it makes everything more clearly apparent.

That faint hope was decimated Tuesday night when I saw the president of the United States cruelly mock Dr. Ford’s testimony in front of a frothing white crowd who laughed and applauded his unhinged performance. Every time I saw the clip, I could feel my ears flush with white-hot rage. RAGE. What do you do with rage? Where do you put it, so you can kiss your wife goodnight and go to sleep? Sleep. I try to remember what that feels like – a good night’s sleep. Tylenol PM helped me remember on Tuesday night.

Yes, even my sleep aids are blue.

When I woke up Wednesday morning, my rage was gone, vanquished in the dark of night and replaced by a paralyzing hopelessness. My legs felt as heavy as my heart as I tried to start moving through my day. I felt trapped – caged in by despair. I started a dozen tasks and abandoned them all. I finally just sat down in the reading chair in my home office and cried. Not an ugly cry – Lord knows I’m capable of that – but a cry of helplessness. I just did not know what to do to make it – anything – better.

And then the damnedest thing happened – I was resurrected by a post by a friend on Facebook. Okay, I know that sounds a little like a Hallmark movie, but it’s the truth. My friend Kristin lives in the DC area and founded an innovative fundraising company that supports some outstanding non-profit organizations. She’s a chronic do-gooder in her professional and personal life and she’s a smart cookie, too, so I try to pay attention to what she’s saying. This is what she posted yesterday morning:

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Yes, it was Facebook, but it was a lifeline to me. I immediately scanned through my inventory of postcards. Sidebar: My dear Aunt Phyllis sent me a postcard from every place she every traveled and it instilled in me a great love of  handwritten correspondence. I found one that seemed like a good fit and wrote my brief message to Dr. Ford. And I felt better. No, I felt good! And I got to thinking about what Kristin wrote – “to counteract every act of hate with an act of kindness and support.”

This sounded like a feasible plan to me, folks, so I reposted Kristin’s post on my Facebook and Instagram accounts and the posts went moderately viral – at least by non-Kardashian standards. As I write this, almost 500 people have “liked” or commented on the IG post and that makes me feel a lot less helpless than I did yesterday morning.

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And it wasn’t just Kristin. My friend Jimmy is an addiction counselor in long-term recovery. He is honest and open about his journey and I have great respect for him. Yesterday morning he posted this message:

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Followed a bit later by this one:

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Jimmy got some very thoughtful responses including these:

Mr. Rogers had the best advice for trouble times. Always look for the helpers. You will find them all around you and friends that care and people with good hearts. Look in the mirror to start with. We are not alone.

If we don’t transform our pain we will most certainly transmit it. I personally take comfort in the certainty that all things change… The best way to find yourself again is to lose yourself in the service of others.

Take a break and watch Mean Girls – it’s October 3rd! 

Okay, that last one just made me laugh and I thought you could use one, too.

Last night, Jimmy posted the Tiny Buddha meme below and it made my heart sing. That was about all I did yesterday, too, but it was enough.

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#goals

This morning, it was my dear friend Jeff who gave me some hope. I adore Jeff but he would be the first to admit that at times, he can be a crusty curmudgeon and doomsayer. And then he’ll surprise you with a post that’s so optimistic and inspiring that you can almost hear a choir singing. He did it again today. He heard historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on the radio on his long commute into work this morning. She was addressing the great division in our country – liking it to the Civil War. Goodwin painted a pretty grim picture of what’s going on and said that we need a figure to rise above the division and bring us back to the central idea that we all want what’s best for our country.

I’m sure dear Doris would really appreciate Jeff’s summation of her thoughts and would smile at his post:

Things are going to get far worse and I think the chances are high that they’ll never get better. Even so, I will not let these dark days dampen my enthusiasm for the election in November. All we can do is continue to fight and hope that a hero, regardless of if the cape he or she wears is red or blue, emerges from the current dumpster fire and saves us from the abyss.

Jeff is right. All we can do is continue to fight and hope. We are the ones who must save each other. Yes, by all means VOTE and help get out the vote and drive people to vote and ALL of that, but also – be kind. I love Michelle Obama, but I’m not espousing her “When they go low, we go high” mantra – I’m just not that good and I will sometimes still have to bitch slap Lindsey Graham on Twitter, but I can commit to not letting those who do not believe the way I do – in the things that I hold most dear – diminish me. I cannot let my own rage diminish me.

If you’re not familiar with the author and activist Glennon Doyle, you should be. She has been a balm for me of late on social media with her wise words and truth-telling. Today she posted a passage from To Kill A Mockingbird that I have printed out and put on the bulletin board in my office. I will read it over and over again during the next few days, months, however long it takes…

Atticus is trying to explain to his son, Jem, how someone can do the right thing and still lose. Here’s the passage:

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

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Damn. Where is a good Supreme Court nominee when you need one?

We will see this through the way we always have – together.

And I think we will freaking rock a cape. And it might even be seersucker.

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One size does not fit all.

 

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What she said.

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Facing my fears

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Photo by Carla Kucinski.

Public speaking terrifies me.

It frightens me more than heights or roller coasters or swimming in the ocean — all of which are real, deep fears for me.

I will never jump out of a plane or dangle from a bridge on a bungee chord, suspended above a rocky river. Nor will you ever see me riding Six Flags’ Goliath – I can’t even handle the ferris wheel. I am not adventurous in that way, and instead get my thrills from discovering simple things like a new cupcake shop.

I realize that the basis of my fear is a little thing called death. But there’s a deeper layer rooted in the fear of surrendering all self-control and putting my trust in whoever is at the switch. There’s a “letting go” that needs to happen, and I am not a “letting go” kind of gal.

With public speaking, you have to surrender yourself to the audience and hope that they will be engaged and kind and forgiving. It also requires being in the spotlight, something else I do not enjoy. I prefer to work behind-the-scenes.

My earliest memory of this fear was in preschool. A few times a year, our teachers would make us perform a bunch of songs for all the parents. When it was showtime, I was the kid in the back row rubbing my eyes, crying. There’s a photo of me holding hands with another little girl with a Kool-Aid stained mouth, trying to comfort me. Situations like that overwhelmed me even at such a young age. When there’s too much stimuli, I shut down or meltdown.

So then what would possess me to voluntarily get up on stage two weeks ago and tell a personal story, without notes, to a roomful of strangers? Fear. Or better yet, confronting my fear.

This is me with Jeff, the creator of The Monti, after I performed my story. Jeff is an incredible storytelling coach and helped me craft my story every step of the way. He also believed in me, which helped me believe in me, too.

This is me with Jeff, the creator of The Monti, after I performed my story. Jeff is an incredible storytelling coach and helped me craft my story every step of the way. He also believed in me, which helped me believe in me, too.

For a few months, Jeff Polish had been trying to get me to tell a story at The Monti, a storytelling event where people from the community tell a true 12-minute story based on a particular theme. Jeff is the creator, and an all-around good guy. He also looks a lot like Ray Romano. Jeff launched The Monti in Chapel Hill in 2008 to a sold-out crowd, and occasionally he would bring The Monti to Greensboro. That’s how I became a Monti junkie.

As a writer, I love a good story. But live storytelling, I discovered, offered a much deeper connection than words on a page. Every time I attended a Monti performance, my face would hurt from laughing and my eyes would burn from crying. Each story moved me in a different way.

The night I walked away from my first Monti I thought, “I want to do this.” Followed by my second thought: “But I’m terrified.” For years, I attended The Monti as a spectator, trying to envision myself telling a story and thinking that over time I would muster the courage to step onto the stage. But fear paralyzed me.

It took three invitations from Jeff before I finally said “yes.” The theme “Animal Instincts” spoke to me, but aside from that, I’m not sure why I finally agreed. In fact, it was almost like someone else had spoken “yes” for me. But once I committed, I knew there was no turning back. I was all in. And I was petrified.

Someone told me recently that sometimes life throws challenges at us, stretches us beyond our comfort levels, to prepare us for something greater. I did not realize until now that in the months leading up to my Monti debut, I was tested in ways that I had never been tested before — and it all revolved around public speaking.

Six months before The Monti, my aunt asked me to deliver the eulogy at my grandpa’s funeral. I cried so much throughout the funeral service that I worried I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together. My entire body trembled. But when I stepped up to the podium and looked out at the mournful faces gathered in the church, waiting to hear my words, the tears stopped, my voice was steady, and I just did it. How? I’m still not sure.

Two months later, a colleague asked me to present at a conference. I was afraid, but I said yes. Two months after that, I had to give a group presentation to the president of the college I work for — and all the directors. Afterwards, people told me I was a natural and to walk in my gift. Me? I kept glancing over my shoulder, thinking they were talking to someone else.

That's me debuting my story on The Monti stage. It's kind of surreal looking at these photos. I still can't believe I got up there.  Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

That’s me debuting my story on The Monti stage. It’s kind of surreal looking at these photos. I still can’t believe I got up there. Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

The day of my Monti performance I felt like I was going to throw up. It started at noon, and only got worse the closer it got to showtime. Jeff assured me this was normal. In fact, when I saw him that night, he actually seemed proud that I had reached this critical point in the Monti storytelling journey. This is what’s supposed to happen.

That night, I told a story, a love story about my first dog Yoshi — our beginning, our middle and our end. It was just me, and a mic and roomful of listeners. And it was the most vulnerable place I had ever stepped into. Willingly. But when I took the stage and I spoke my first line, all my fears evaporated. It was like someone flipped a switch inside of me, and it felt incredible.

When I returned to my seat, Addison leaned over and told me to look around, “Everyone is crying. Not a dry eye,” she said. I scanned the faces in the room, wet with tears. In that moment, I experienced the power of storytelling. That night my words connected with the people in that room and they felt something. And I felt something too, an overwhelming amount of gratitude. I was grateful for an audience who was kind, attentive and open; for friends who cheered me on that night and surrounded me with support and comfort and lifted me up; and for Jeff for seeing something in me that I didn’t until now.

Photo by McKenzie Floyd.

Photo by McKenzie Floyd.