May We Be Fortified
I Want To Be Here For All Of It
I went out for a walk the other day by the lake. I was listening to this wonderful interview of Jason Reynolds, the Library of Congress’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, because I am the sort of person who is replenished by deep conversation about books and words and imagination and truth and racism and our common humanity.
I am also rejuvenated by an unexpected fart joke, but we’ll work our way around to that…
Anyway, so I’m walking along and Reynolds says:
ultimately, I think that my role, for as long as I am on this plane and as long as I am doing this work, my role will always be to figure out how to create fortitude in the minds and bodies and spirits of young people. I’m trying to fortify them.
My loves, it was like my heart perked up its ears like a dog that hears something outside. Then my brain ran through the proverbial doggie door and was off on the hunt. Fortify!... To be fortified!… Fortitude!… Fortifications!
Then, as is often the case, other related bits and pieces started to filter in, dots started connecting, and here we are.
Growing up as a Quaker, I was raised with the idea that the person leading the community through the decision-making process was, in essence, a facilitator. When functioning in that role, my job was not to dictate from on high, subsuming other people’s agency, responsibility, and power. My job was to lay out the matter at hand, set my individual perspective aside, and mind the process. Minding the process meant trusting my compatriots to bring their whole selves to bear, to listen to each other and God very, very deeply, and nudging us back on the path to listening and wholeness when we got off track.
I heard in Reynolds’ words about himself an echo of this idea, which resonates with what, ultimately, I am trying to do here, in this virtual space. I have no interest in leading or teaching people in a way that elevates me above them. I am, for sure, down in the mud and muck with you. We’re all just trying to get from one end of the day to the next, am I right?
What I do seek to do, however, is to fortify you by minding the process of integrity. If you look up the definition of fortitude, Merriam-Webster offers this: “strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage.” With all due respect to M-W, I don’t think “strength of mind” is enough. Brains are squirrelly, willful, and often unreliable things. Brains— certainly mine, in any case— lack humility and are easily hijacked by ego, unconscious emotional patterning, and social conditioning.
I am seeking for myself, and all of us, strength of mind, heart, spirit, and body, the whole kit and kaboodle. That is the sort of wholistic fortitude that feeds and is fed by the practice of integrity in our daily lives.
Why do we need it, this fortitude? Because, my dear ones, this being alive thing is brutal a lot of the time, no matter what we do. No matter how hard we work to show up fully, how much integrity we bring to bear upon our lives, pain and sickness and death will come. That is the deal we strike to be here.
For many years of my life, I mistakenly believed that I could build my fortifications strong enough and far enough away from my heart and the hearts of my dear ones that pain and trauma would not touch us. I called those fortifications boundaries, but boundaries are simply limits. They aren’t walls topped with razor wire and broken glass that you crouch behind hoping vainly that life will not storm in.
I have learned, slowly and painstakingly, to fortify myself, so that maintaining the boundary between me and others— what I accept and reject, what I control and bear responsibility for, and what is not my work to do— does not require me to keep the world at constant arm’s length.
My integrity and fortitude allow me to pull life close, close enough to feel its bumps and imperfections and wounds and fevers, but also its enveloping softness, its vibrating ecstasy, its exploding joy. This embrace is a welcoming in and a waving goodbye, a birthday party and a funeral parade. Showing up with everything I have, I feast on everything.
I want to share with you two pieces of art that fortify me. They are feasts of life and death and tears and laughter. They embody what Jason Reynolds offers as an evocative synonym for freedom, breathlaughter— the constant cycling of inhale and exhale, expansion and contraction, laughter and tears, life and death, rolling on and on and on. Holding it all with joy; that is freedom to me.
If you want to see the entirety of the My Joy is Heavy! project, sponsored by Arena Stage, which is a movie/musical/treatise/celebration about family and miscarriage and love and life, you can watch that here.
The full, live album of Tig Notaro’s Hello, I Have Cancer set, can be found here.
May we all be fortified, my dear ones, so that we may feast together on life. Thank you. Hallelujah. Amen.
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