Category Archives: writing

The Swords We Choose

“You need to choose the sword you fall on.”

Those words rang in my ears as I walked back through my office doors.

They hadn’t been said in warning. They were simply the last bits of a conversation with a wise woman who was commenting on my tendency to either push back or push the envelope, challenge the status quo and speak out loudly about my beliefs.

And yet, the words seemed to take on a shape of their own and drift behind me as I braced myself for my next challenge.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m a firm believer that challenges are great for character development. But they can also be senseless and tragic when created by one group of people against another group of people.

And more and more, that’s the type of  challenge I face on a daily basis.

Earlier in the week, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers conducted raids in my community and took numerous individuals into custody.

For some people, that just means they were following the law. For others, it demonstrates how a complex and outdated immigration system is hurting our fellow human beings. And for some hateful and spiteful individuals, it means that “foreigners” and “illegal aliens” are getting what they deserve.

But to people like me and my colleagues, it means families are being torn apart.

It means children are losing a parent.

It means people who have escaped desperate situations and horrific conditions are losing hope, struggling to navigate a complicated and bureaucratic system and living in fear that they will never see their loved ones again.

And it means that the challenges my colleagues and I face every day aren’t as simple as ensuring that families have housing, food and enough money to pay the utility bills.

The challenges aren’t as simple as advocating for immigrant rights or educating the community about the complicated immigration system in our country.

They aren’t even as simple as ensuring that teachers understand that a spirited debate about “illegal” immigration isn’t helpful when you forget that the child in the back of the room has a father who has just been deported.

The challenges we face aren’t simple because matters of the heart are never simple.

And the art of living with people who have different ideas, different skin colors, different religions, different beliefs and different histories is a matter of the heart.

Unfortunately, my heart has been breaking a little more each time I hear, read or witness another senseless attack on someone who is simply struggling to exist.

Which is the reason I’ve been sharpening that proverbial sword I was warned about.

My sword isn’t intended to hurt people, but, when it’s used correctly, it sometimes does.

That’s because swords were designed for fighting.

My sword is comprised of the words I write about the truth as I see it.  My colleagues have their own swords built on experience, education and passion. And all of us are using our swords to fight against injustice and to defend hearts that can easily break in today’s heated attacks on minorities, the poor and the undocumented.

We may trip and fall on our swords by accident, but there is no doubt that we will ever regret the fight.

The Antidote

antidoteI try to be a nice person. I really do.

But sometimes, the person I strive to be and the one in my head couldn’t be more different.

O.K. – not some of the time. Most of the time.

In fact, I’ve often wondered if the first verse of “Cell Block Tango” in the musical Chicago was written with me in mind. In it, a young woman explains how the habits of other people can “get you down.” She complains about Bernie, who popped his gum when she was having a bad day. Her bad day turned into his bad day when she shot and killed him.

I can’t say I’ve ever come close to killing another person, but my mind is often plotting revenge. I just don’t act on these thoughts.

But when I’m in a funk, like I was last week, people or situations that are normally just irritating suddenly proliferate as though purposefully torturing me.

The moms who have known each other for years and don’t make an effort to include me in their conversations, even when I try to insert myself, morph into that pack of mean girls from high school.

The people who talk about updating the living room paint to “this year’s color” make me feel completely incompetent and out of touch. (Up until this year, I never even knew that some shades of beige are “in” and some are “out.” I generally feel accomplished when the old, faded living room carpet at my house gets vacuumed a couple of times each month.)

The grocery store clerks who make comments about the food I’m buying completely annoy me. Even though I tend to be a chatty person with almost everyone, I don’t need complete strangers talking to me about my eating habits.

Parents who make sure that they drop a list of their children’s accomplishments into every conversation seem to taunt me for my less accomplished (in their eyes) kids.

And those are just the people who irritate me. I haven’t even mentioned the ones who make me really angry:

  • Individuals who don’t take pride in their job. I just don’t get that. If you are being paid to do something, you should never, ever expect other people to compensate and clean up your messes.
  • People who compensate and clean up the messes for individuals who don’t take pride in their job. When that happens, the lazy people never learn.
  • People who post derogatory comments in social media about low-income people who receive government benefits. No one in this world goes without the help of others. Some people are just fortunate to have family, friends, intellectual gifts and opportunities that helped them overcome difficult situations.
  • Individuals who don’t take time to listen to others who may be less educated, less beautiful, less wealthy, less accomplished or less socially connected. We are all on this planet together, and I’m fairly confident that God doesn’t care more about some than others.
  • Those same people who flaunt all they have by dropping snide comments or making off-hand remarks that are actually intended to put down others.
  • Anyone who makes decisions that hurt my children and cause them to question their abilities or their dreams.

Generally, my antidote for this anger is to make up and play out entire scenes in my head. In them, I say just the right words or take just the right actions to cut down the offenders and put them in their place.

And then I pray to be a kind person and pretend to be the nice person I wish I were.

Usually, that’s enough, and the anger and irritation subside.

Usually.

But when the irritation and anger continue to linger and the notes from “Cell Block Tango” become an ear worm, I have to do something a littler more dramatic and employ a stronger antidote.

That’s when I write about the people I annoy me. And sometimes, I even make those written words public.

The Selfish Writer

When I was younger, I lived my life in expectation of the person I would someday become.

Merriam Webster online Definitin

Merriam Webster online Definition

Someday I would gain better control of my mouth so I didn’t make comments that sound stupid.

Someday I would no longer feel like an awkward ugly ducking and would transform into a beautiful swan.

Someday I would be so accomplished that people who had hurt or discouraged me would  say, “I know her.”

As I grew older, I was no longer concerned with such somedays. Others might attribute the change to the natural process of aging or to the fact I grew more comfortable in my own skin. Maybe they are right.

Those somedays I’d imagined were about what other people thought of me rather than the type of person I was capable of becoming.  

I wish I could say I no longer worry about what people think of me or that my intentions are always humble and selfless, but I can’t. I simply traded my somedays for the immediate gratification of writing.

writing interruptionWriting provides an opportunity to share my thoughts without interruption or disagreement. Writing allows me to arrange and rearrange words like a florists puts together a beautiful bouquet or a musician composes a haunting melody. And writing offers me a stage on which I am the star. In other words, writing lets me share the best parts of myself in a venue and in a manner that I choose.

That makes me feel good about myself and helps the somedays disappear. Even though people tell me I am simply using a God-given gift to share information or to make people think or to entertain, I know that’s only partly true.

I also write so people better understand me. I write because people read what I say and give me attention. I write because it provides a way to share pent-up emotions and frustrations. And I write because I simply enjoy the process the way some people enjoy cooking or making crafts.

In other words, I write because I am selfish.

But if my selfish acts also encourage others to thinks differently or to smile a bit,  I’m not going to feel guilty.

Instead I’m going to keep on writing while the wishful somedays fade into my distant past.

Public Indecency

Flasher-in-a-mac-001I’ve heard people say that  writing is like going naked in public. If you write from the heart and are completely truthful, you are also completely exposing yourself. And even though my husband sometimes jokes that I have nudist tendencies, I really don’t.

Exposing my most private thoughts and experiences is incredibly scary. And yet, I still feel compelled to do so.

My need doesn’t come from my ego but rather from my heart. I have a deep-seated desire to make people think.

I won’t lie. Sometimes I fear how my words will be interpreted or that some people will twist them to meet their own needs. And sometimes they do.  But, instead of worrying about the critics, I try to focus on all the people who express their appreciation that I am speaking up. And, ever once in a while, the power of my own voice surprises me.

Yesterday, I was talking to Angela, the mother of one of my son’s former classmates. She asked how Shepherd likes attending a brand new (as in newly constructed) high school.

I said he’s very happy, but that there are challenges in trying to establish all new programs, including music and sports. We joked about the football team, and I asked if she had seen a letter to the editor in our local newspaper.

In it, a parent complained that students in the northern end of the county got a brand new school when the students at Martinsburg High School should have one. Her reasoning was that the Martinsburg students deserve a new school because of their championship football and basketball teams.

Angela and I laughed about priorities, but then she said something that took me off guard.

“You are such a good writer, you should write a letter in response.”

I wasn’t just surprised that she knows I write. I was surprised that she thought my words are powerful enough to make a difference.

Instead of acknowledging those thoughts, I simply laughed and said, “That wouldn’t be worth the time.”

She agreed, and our conversation drifted. But my own words stayed with me.

I hadn’t said that writing such a letter wouldn’t be worth my time, I’d said the time. At some point during my journey as a writer, I stopped thinking about my blog as an individual activity and one that involves a community – other writers, readers, friends and colleagues. And in doing so, I also realized I’m not as alone or exposed as I felt when I first started writing.

And for that, I am very grateful.

365 Reasons to Smile – Day 42

benjamin franklinWhen I came home for lunch the other day, my neighbor was walking her four dogs by my house. As I walked down the driveway to greet them, she commented on a recent blog I wrote.

I had no idea she’d ever read my blog and was so surprised I almost missed her supportive words.

Even though I get feedback about my writing from my friends and family, getting it from a random acquaintance is different.

There is something completely rewarding in knowing that my written words can touch people with whom I have no other connection.

And that always makes me smile.

Day 42:  Appreciative Readers

Day 41:  Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote  Day 40: Being Silly

Day 39:  Being Happy Exactly Where You Are  Day 38: Proud Grandparents

Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies   Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories

Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Day 34:  Accepting the Fog    Day 33: I See the Moon

Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap

Day 31: Perspective

Day 30:  Unlikely Friendships  Day 29: Good Samaritans

Day 28:  Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet?    Day 27: Shadows

Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads

Day 25: When Harry Met Sally

Day 24:  Hibiscus   Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck

Day 22:  The Wonderful World of Disney   Day 21: Puppy love

Day 20 Personal Theme Songs     Day 19:  Summer Clouds

Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17:  A Royal Birth        Day 16:  Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle   Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter     Day 12:  Round Bales of Hay Day 11:  Water Fountains for Dogs    Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers  Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day  7:  Finding the missing sock   Day 6:  Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment     Day 4:  Jumping in Puddles   Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill    Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street

Picking My Battles

As a write this, I’m a little angry.

Actually, I’m really angry.

And even though my neighbor is laughing at my outrage and my husband is telling me not to embarrass him, I feel the need to share my anger.

registrationEvery day, I take my dog for a walk through the park by my house. The PUBLIC (as in partly paid for by taxpayer dollars) park by my house. Sometimes, we even go there twice a day and enjoy a leisurely stroll.

Not tonight.

When I arrived at the park, there was caution tape haphazardly strewn up around a large section of the park. It had obviously been put there by amateurs, and I stepped over it.

I continued up a hill as a shrill voice called after me.

“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”

I ignored the voice, partly because I just don’t like being called ma’am.

The voice got closer.

“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”

I turned around.

“You have to leave, you aren’t allowed in this area. We are holding an event for Cub Scouts and you’re a security risk.”blocked playground

A security risk? Really? I gave her a look that said as much, but my words were “This is a public park. I walk here every day.”

“We rented it.” she said.

“I have a hard time believing that,” I said. “You can rent a shelter, but you can’t rent a section of the park.”

The woman, who wasn’t in the best of shape and had obviously exerted herself chasing after me, tried to puff out her chest and exude her importance in her orange day-glow vest, “We did. ” she said. “And you can’t be here.”

I didn’t want to get in a fight. I just wanted to walk up the hill, but I turned around muttering under my breath.

Apparently, I’m loud even when I mutter under my breath.

Three young people, who had also been chased off, smiled at me and pumped their fists. “Power to the people,” one of the young men said. We walked together along the outside the park fence, and when we approached the “open” section of the park, we said goodbye.

But I wasn’t done.

As I watched more “security guards” (i.e. parents in orange vests) walking the perimeter of the taped-off section of the park, three more young people, one of whom was carrying a basketball, walked down the hill from the PUBLIC basketball court.

“Were you chased out too?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am,” said one of the young men said, and I didn’t mind that he called me ma’am because he said it with respect.

“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’m going to complain on behalf of all of us.”

They nodded and walked off with their shoulders slumped while the Cub Scouts (all 15 or so of them) cheered behind them.

bbcourtI’m sure the Cub Scouts weren’t cheering because the teens had been chased off, but the sound made me even angrier.

I walked the perimeter taking pictures with my phone.

One of the parents in an orange vest, this time a man, asked if he could help me.

“I’m just taking pictures,” I said. Then I clarified, “but not of the few boys you are protecting. I’m not a security risk. I’m just taking pictures of how you aren’t letting me use a public park.”

There was no answer.

Maybe I AM blowing this out of proportion, and I DO understand the need to protect young children.

But I have issues with how this whole situation was handled.

Every day, there are dozens of children playing on the playground that was blocked off, and no one has ever before prevented me from walking my dog there. If the parents were that concerned about security, there are plenty of other more private and secure locations where they could have held their event. Even if the group had rented the park, and not just a shelter, they could have actually put up polite signs rather than tape that signaled anyone who crossed it was a criminal.

Most of all, there just weren’t enough boys attending the event to outweigh the members of the public who were prevented from using the PUBLIC facilities.

And all of that means I’m angry.  I am angry not only about the arrogance with which I was confronted but also about the self-righteousness with which I was told I was a security threat.

And because of that, this is one battle I am willing to pick.

Late comment: For those who think the park was well-marked and I should have walked away, here’s what it looked like from where I entered:   entrance

tents

The Permanent Mark of Bad Behavior

Mena-Peopel-Suck1There are times I feel as though mean and difficult people are the masterminds behind a sinister plot to take over the world. They know they’ll eventually just wear out the rest of us with their rude comments and insensitive behavior.

But then I come to my senses and realize if they were actually smart enough to carry out such a plot, they’d have more sense than a second grader. That’s when you learn some of life’s most important lessons. For example, I learned that a poor decision or a mean word will stay on your permanent record card forever, and a blemish on that card is never going to help you succeed.

Of course, I learned that lesson the hard way. I got the first black mark on my permanent record card when I was in second grade. I’ve had countless since then, but that’s the one that taught me about consequences and guilt.

The exact details of my crime are rather fuzzy, but the guilt is forever etched in my conscience.

The problems started because I was a bus rider.

In second grade, we didn’t have cliques, but there were two distinct groups: bus riders and walkers. (In those days, only the children of teachers came to school in cars.)

I perceived the walkers as privileged. They didn’t have to wait for anyone or abide by any schedule other than the ring of the bell. They didn’t have to arrive at school until the very last minute, and they could leave as soon as the bell rang at the end of the day.

I was jealous.

Those of us who rode the bus were just stuck. Since my bus ran earlier than others, there was a group of us who arrived at school much earlier than we actually needed to be there. In order for school officials to maintain order, they required us to immediately go to the cafeteria and sit quietly until given permission to go to our classrooms.

The wait was long and boring, especially since we were always being told to “quiet down.” Even now, almost 40 years later, I find that difficult. In second grade, it seemed impossible.

I don’t remember who came up with the scheme or how we executed it, but a group of friends and I decided we were going to escape the prison in the cafeteria. We didn’t make it far and were soon discovered hiding in the bathroom. After yelling at us, a teacher escorted my fellow criminals and me to the principal’s office.

The only thing I knew about the principal’s office was that it was where the really bad kids went. I was pretty sure there was a jail cell in there, where we would be handcuffed and chained to the bars as punishment for our crime. My worries grew as we were told to sit outside Mr. Mitchell’s office and “think about what we had done.”

By the time Mr. Mitchell opened his door and told us to come in, I was shaking.

Mr. Mitchell sat behind the desk and lectured us and lectured us and lectured us. As he talked, his face got redder and redder and redder. The only words I remember were “your permanent record card.”

I gulped.

I was supposed to go to college and get a job. I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents that all their hopes and dreams for me had been erased with one stupid decision. (Yes, I really did worry about such things as a young child.)

For years, I worried about my permanent record card and that time in the principal’s office. Many nights, I would lie in bed thinking about the implications. My concerns finally began to fade when I was an adolescent and transferred to a different school district. As my records were being reviewed, no one mentioned my criminal past.

I had been granted a pardon, and I was grateful. But, now, I find myself getting tired of passing on the gift of a pardon to others.

This week I am especially tired. I wrote in another blog about the death of a young West Virginian. While most of the feedback was positive, there were also individuals who left comments that belittled the individual and his way of life. The comments were hurtful and rude and pointless.

They were also permanent. Even if they are deleted, others have already read them, including friends and family members.

The situation bothered me to the point I couldn’t sleep at night worrying whether or not I should even have written about the young man’s death.

But then I remembered another important lesson from second grade: most people are mean to others because they don’t feel good about themselves, so you should try to be nice to them anyway.

I guess I’ll keep trying. Even though the marks made by  negative behavior (by both me and by other people) may be permanent, marks for positive behaviors can be permanent too. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Happiness Should Be Like a Dog With a Snowball

photoThe year 2012 ended with a white Christmas, which is fairly unusual here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. But then, Mother Nature hasn’t been very predictable, or even very kind, over the past twelve months. Her random and sometimes disruptive behavior was fitting for a year when too many people experienced upheaval and loss. But just like Mother Nature, 2012 also brought bright and sunny moments along with the storms. All serve as reminders of the lessons we  need to learn and/or remember.

Lesson 1: We Should Experience Happiness Like a Dog with A Snowball  My German Shepherd, Rodney, adores the snow. He loves bounding through it. He loves smelling it. He loves eating it. And most of all, he loves playing in it. As a true fanatic for all things that can be thrown and caught, when the white stuff is on the ground, he begs for someone to pack and throw a snowball.

This Christmas, I noted how thrilled he was with every snowball he caught, even though each fell apart or dissolved in his mouth. Instead of being disappointed when a snowball was gone, he was just as eager for another, which he enjoyed with no concern that it too would disappear.

We should all appreciate our happy moments just like my dog appreciates snowballs. They may be fleeting, but instead of worrying that they may not last, we should enjoy each moment and remain steadfast in our belief that there will always be more.

skittyLesson 2: We Can’t Always Control Our Circumstances or Protect Those We Love, but Any Attempts To Do So Are Always Good for a Laugh At the end of June, the Eastern Panhandle, like the rest of West Virginia, was hit unexpectedly by a derecho, or a land hurricane. Most of us had never heard of such a storm prior to the event, and since there were no warnings, we didn’t initially realize the severity of what had happened. We discovered the extent of damage the next day when we saw the downed trees and power lines and when many people experienced a loss of electricity for weeks.

The event left its mark, so in October, when meteorologists called for the Eastern Panhandle to be in the path of Hurricane Sandy, most of us wanted to be prepared. Some of us over-prepared. And some of us even freaked out… a bit.

For my part, I decided my family should ride out Sandy in our basement to avoid the hazards of trees crashing through our roof. We were all safely downstairs when I realized that Skitty, our cat, wasn’t with us. Since Skitty has a tendency to hide in unusual and hard-to-find places, I immediately assigned all family members to search for her. As the wind howled and the trees creaked, we took turns calling her name and shaking a bag of cat food, which is usually the best way to get our over-weight feline out of hiding. This time it didn’t work, and I began to worry that my cat, who is generally too lazy to go outside, was battling the elements.

Just as my anxiety got the worst of me, my son, in his usual dry and sarcastic way, told me that the cat was safe. As it turns out, the only thing she was battling was her disdain for a family who didn’t realize that she’d taken shelter in the basement long before the rest of us. My cat had the sense to do what she needed to do and not be bothered by the drama that surrounded her. I should have done the same.

I hadn’t had enough warning to worry about the derecho, and we managed through the storm and the aftermath just fine. I had way too much warning about Sandy, and even though we also managed through that storm and aftermath just fine, my stress level had gotten so high that even my cat chose to ignore me.

Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in either avoiding a situation or in worrying about what might happen, we simply forget that we can only do so much, we must accept that some things are beyond our control and we should believe in the sound judgment and appropriate actions of others. The results won’t always be what we hope for, but too much worry is only good for providing memories that allow us to laugh at ourselves later. mailboxes

Lesson 3: Life Rarely Goes According to Plan, but When Bad Things Happen, We All Have a Great Capacity for Resiliency and Recovery  No one in my family expected the snow that arrived on Christmas Eve, and, even after it began to fall, none of us expected it to last long. But last it did. And in the midst of final preparations for our Christmas celebration, the snow covered the grass and then it covered the roads.

When we realized we were going to have a white Christmas, we celebrated by taking a family walk with Rodney. Unfortunately, Rodney was more excited than all of us, and the jumping, the barking and the lunging, drove my husband crazy to the point he just wanted to go home. Instead of enjoying the beauty of the untouched snow, we were trying to control an overly enthusiastic dog. I worried that our Christmas Eve would become a battle over the dog.

As Rodney began to calm down, we began the climb up the hill on the far side of our neighborhood. When a truck came speeding down the snow-covered hill, we immediately jumped off the road and into a neighbor’s lawn. And then we heard loud thumps and bangs. We turned to see that the truck had gone off the road and taken out two mailboxes and multiple newspaper boxes. Packages littered the ground, and I was relieved that Rodney’s behavior was all but forgotten.

We empathized with the driver and the home owners that such an incident happened on Christmas Eve. But when put in perspective with the loss some families faced this Christmas, the event was far from tragic. For many, Christmas isn’t always just a reminder of family traditions and family warmth. It can also be a reminder of could-have-beens, might-have-beens and regrets. And yet, most of us still believe in the magic of the holidays.

Yesterday, as I was walking up that same hill with Rodney during yet another unexpected snow storm, I noticed the mailboxes were already back up. As is true with human nature, the owners were trying to get everything back to normal. Seeing the mailboxes standing so quickly after witnessing their near demise less than 36 hours earlier was a reminder that no holiday is ever perfect. But planning for perfection only leaves room for disappointment, and planning for disappointment only leaves room for anxiety. But planning to enjoy life’s imperfections only leaves room for joy.

I plan to carry that lesson with me forever and to look forward to whatever the weather, and life, have in store for  2013.

There Is No Fear in My Anger

Today, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and attempting a different type of blog.

Since I recently saw Maya Angelou, I’m writing poetry for the first time since adolescence (for the record, that’s about 30 years ago).

This challenge requires taking a deep breath and jumping in.

Here… I… go…

There Is No Fear in My Anger

The workshop leader told us

That anger is always rooted in fear.

That helping people address their anger

Always requires helping them confront their fears.

I, the student, told myself

That my anger is never rooted in fear.

That dealing with my anger

Always requires confronting the source.

There is no fear in my anger.

My anger is rooted in a sense of fairness.

When people are treated differently because of the way they look or because of their perceived social status

Then I am red, hot angry.

But I am not fearful.

My anger is rooted in a desire for benevolence.

When a person with money or connections is regarded more highly than a knowledgeable person

Then I am rebelliously angry.

But I am not fearful.

My anger is rooted in a hard-earned sense of self-worth.

When I am ignored because someone wants to build his own ego on a false sense of self-importance

Then I am howling with anger.

But I am not fearful.

My anger is rooted in a cry for compassion.

When I hear people ridicule those who have less

Then I am sadly angry.

But I am not fearful.

My anger is rooted in respect.

When people spend years building a strong foundation and it is destroyed by those who want to build an empire

Then I am frustrated with anger.

But I am not fearful.

And when I am told that I am fearful rather than angry

I am full of fighting words and the need to persevere and speak the truth.

But I am not fearful.

For there is simply no fear in my anger.

(Wow.. that WAS like jumping into a cold pool and enjoying a great swim… invigorating.  I had forgotten why I wrote poetry as a teen.  I may now write more!)

My Brief Encounter With the Perfect Imperfection of Maya Angelou

I am an incredibly imperfect woman living in a society of people who hide their imperfections much better than I do.

Some are better able to hold their tongues. Others have achieved such brilliant success that it hides any inadequacies. And then there are the people who spend a great deal of time and energy covering up any deficiencies.

Since my tongue often seems to engage before my brain, my successes are nothing out of the ordinary and I choose to spend my time and energy just being me, I don’t mind that people know I’m far from perfect.

Despite that, I’m always striving to become a better person. For that, I need inspiration, which most often comes from other admittedly imperfect women.

These are the women who make me believe.

They make me believe that even those of us who are flawed can accomplish great things. They make me believe that past mistakes and missteps are the fundamental ingredients for a rich life. And they make me believe that, despite injustice and unfair odds, believing in possibilities can only result in magic.

My inspiration comes from women who have overcome barriers and have an honest compassion for those who are still struggling.

And, of course, my inspiration comes from women who can express all this in writing — women like Maya Angelou.

Despite her splendid poetry and prose, her insightful observations of human behavior and the reverence she must encounter everywhere she goes, Maya Angelou doesn’t deny who she is: an imperfect woman who has struggled but, through the support and encouragement of others, done the most she can with the gifts bestowed upon her.

Last week, she shared both her humility and her humor with an audience in Charleston, West Virginia at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the YWCA.  Thanks to an invitation from a friend, I was fortunate to be in the audience as she poked fun at herself, challenged all of us to empathize with those who are different and encouraged us to think of possibilities.

She talked about her years of silence following the conviction and murder or the man who raped her as a young girl and how poetry freed her. She encouraged us to always find something to make us smile and, when we can’t, to write about something that does. And, she lectured about not blaming others for past injustices but rather thanking those who endured them and taking responsibility for future generations.

In short, she was amazing. I was either laughing or crying the entire time she was speaking.

And then she read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. About halfway into the poem, she lost her place. She faltered, fumbled then regained her composure as she finished.

I know during those moments of silence while she searched for her place, all of us seated at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences were holding our breath. She had earlier reminded us that she is 84 years old, and that fact sunk into our brains and into our souls.

The moment was brief, and it passed. But it had still occurred.

Yet, at the end of the evening, Dr. Angelou held her head high, showed appreciation for the applause and ended her talk with dignity.

Some might think she was trying to cover her mistake, but I know she was simply demonstrating why she is so great.  Instead of being defined by her mistakes and struggles, she soars through self acceptance and overcoming challenges.

If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.