This week, I’ve been consumed by Grits.
Not bowls of hominy and bacon, but the stuff of mortals that gives them sticking power; courage + perseverance, character.
It’s not hard to find friends who have walked out…walked through…ARE WALKING THROUGH teeth-gritting (see what I did there?), nail-biting, stomach-churning, endurance fests of character, sorrow, grief, and not-knowing.
How do they do it?
What compels – what energizes and equips – people with the stuff of waking up each day and trying again?
How do first generation college students make it to graduation and beyond?
How do newly single parents navigate the land mines of grief, fear, and the earthquakes of change?
How does a veteran and her family rise from great harm to grace and joy again?
I don’t know, but I see it played out daily, but not so much in myself lately. I have been hobbled at the intersection of what I know and have experienced and the not-knowing of where to go next-what to do.
It has become clear what seemed like grit all those year of getting back up and trying again was anger and a by-god-I’ll-show-you what a bucktoothed, feral, unwashed, nerdy kid can learn to do. I’m not angry anymore. No longer nurturing a secret seething that launches me into the world and out of the nightly abyss. I am floundering a bit.
I’m looking for grit. For grits; multiple means of courage and derring do.
And for a raison d’etre; a reason to be.
Tomorrow is the day we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. for his and his family’s sacrifices towards nationally protected racial equality and freedoms shared. How many of us have persisted in a project or a dream past the point of having our homes vandalized and families terrorized? How did he do it?
How did Rosa Parks stay strong on that Montgomery bus knowing that her livelihood – her ability to provide for herself and her family – was likely to be arrested as she was?
How do parents wake up each day to love kids who will never have the ability to say, “I love you” in return? Or children return to school where friends are scarce?
How does a young doctor make the first cut in a makeshift surgery under sub-Saharan skies?
How does a widow rise to meet the day following the loss of her husband?
I’ve bumbled across a few ideas of how some folks develop grits- that constellation of sticking power, hope, character, determination, courage, and get-back-up.
People who exhibit grit have a reason outside of themselves to keep going.
When we were freshly on our own, I gave myself two weeks to fall apart before I needed to find a job with qualified insurance to help take care of the kids and I. I had Madi and Kenan to keep me going and fortunately took the long-view of our future. These people and my love for them helped me make better decisions.
King and Parks had generations of stories and a desire the coming generations’ stories would include shared facilities, equal access to education and opportunity; freedom from fear and they tyranny of racism. I am no MLK or Rosa Parks, but having kids who did not need any more crap in their lives kept me driving to work throughout the grief and sorrow.
People who exhibit grit have communities, family, and friends who walk beside them.
Recently, I recounted how I lost nearly everything when M & K’s dad left me. My place of worship, my job, and many friends faded as untruths were promulgated into what had been overlapping circles of community. This was devastating. There were times I did not wish to go on.
Fortunately, other folks found me or we all found one another and began walking together through and towards the unknown. The “Sweet Potato Queens” regularly assembled to eat together, encourage, cackle, and cause parade goers to mistake us for drag queens. We laughed in times when laughter seemed almost sacrilege. We swapped chores and knowledge and drank wine around the table. We cried. Prayed. Cursed and came back around to hope. United in our grief at first, we became friends – united in our determination to walk through the hell that is divorce with as much grace under pressure as we could find.
I also had a family – new friends – the Waterhouses who pastored a tiny church filled with great love and ladies who made casseroles once a month. They answered my questions and showed me that life in a pew could be messy, profound, fun, and alive in wonder. I learned to appreciate at that time the mystery of what I could not see.
People who exhibit grit get back up.
It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to deduce that life can sometimes feel like all of your skin is peeling off and the way ahead is “chest deep in snakes and gators.”
What may seem like foolish optimism-the third, fourth, fiftieth attempt at something better- is what separates the wishful thinkers from the gritty doers. Wishful thinkers spin their wheels wondering why it has to be this way. Magical thinking dulls the grit and we sit on the couch for 30-40 years wondering why everyone else seems fit, friendly, and climbing Machu Picchu. Blame swipes all effort and parks too many lives in the sub-plot of entitlement.
But grit gives it one more try.
There are no guarantees that grit(s) and wiliness will win the day and all of our hopes become realized.
But I can fairly damn-well-guarantee that sitting on the couch or curb crying forever into your fruit juice is not going to help.
Folks. Life is hard. As a rape overcomer who gets to start the whole dang career thing over with an ambition that doubles as a tabula rasa, I get it. I even had a dandy little flashback today while holding a hand in a pew.
But I-we- cannot stay in our sorrows and anger and fear. We were made for so much more.
I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m looking under rocks and limping as I research…dream about what can be. Doggone it. I still don’t know what to do. But my rent goes up each year (why?) and I’ve got dreams of skiing and adventure with the kids and their peeps. I cannot sit this one out.
“This one” being life.
I’d appreciate your unicorn dust and good wishes; suggestions for finding a next way or rekindling career passion. In the meantime, I will give my best where I am and love the kids that cross through my office.
And I’ll be the one making mistakes, blowing chocolate frosty out of my nose, and occasionally looking shell-shocked. Until I’m not. And I get to try again because I do love grits.