What You Bring to the Fight

A great big dog and his owner arrive at our front door yesterday.  This neighbor has stopped by to visit on the front porch, but while fumbling with his gloves, he lets the leash loose.  The enormous dog squeezes past the screen door and rockets into the house.

Our cat, Louie, sits in the foyer, minding his own business.  He’s licking a paw; he’s yawning. 

And then, in a blur of fur and teeth, the dog nearly devours my cat.

Louie barely escapes.  He then exits the scene in what I think is a cowardly retreat.  But no!  That cat has hidden himself from view momentarily.  While hiding, the cat puffs out his fur in a magnificent display and returns to fight. 

Huge canine beast verses tiny (but now very fluffy) kitty.  There’s no chance, folks.

But Louie knows he can dominate by speed, sharp claws, and clever maneuvering.  Size does not matter when you know what you bring to the fight.

We intervene and stop the brawl.  But all night, I’m laughing about Louie’s bravery.  I’m chuckling about how he hid away, like Clark Kent in a telephone booth, to make his Superman transformation of fluffed-up fur that wasn’t even impressive. Did he not realize how out-sized he was?  Did he not think of the danger?

It’s ridiculous to take on such a monstrous dog.  But in kitty logic, size rarely matters.  Besides, Louie knew that my husband had his back.  And this was his turf.  No dogs allowed. 

That cat has flair.  His confidence, despite his size, amazes me.  Might I enter my mental and spiritual battles with the same fervor?  The enemy looms large, but I know what I bring to the fight.  I know who has my back.  Kitty logic might just save the day.

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Bravo!

I’ve been known to applaud students right in the middle of class if they say something something great.  I’ve been known to cry “Bravo!” and actually rise to my feet.

When I grade papers, I write “Bravo!” in the margins when I see flair in any form.

Why that word?  The word bravo derives from the Italian word meaning brave.  Originating from 18th century Italian opera, the word isn’t as common as it once was.

But it should be. 

We cry out to celebrate after a strong performance because we recognize something great.  What did we see?  I wondered this morning if that “something great” relates to acts of bravery that we recognize and respond to.

Every great act requires bravery.  What fear, what challenge, what opposition did we rise up against to do this thing we are doing?  For some of us, waking up and making it to the bathroom is a courageous act.

I imagine a chorus of invisible witnesses who cheer us on in our daily toil.  The excellent performances of simple folks who rise up against whatever enemy deserve our applause.  I rise to my feet; I clap my hands for you.  “Bravo!  You are brave!  You are brave today, and we recognize it.”

Bravo!

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After All These Years

Every so often, I have a student who fits the category of “non-traditional.”  These students always inspire me.  Some include single parents returning to school, full time workers who attend school part-time, soldiers returning from military service, or senior citizens who wish to learn a different subject. 

It takes courage to sit in a classroom of typical undergrads when you are in a different stage of life; you sit there and wonder if you can keep up or enter into the same conversations.  It takes courage to get out your notebook and pencil from a backpack that’s been buried in your closet for 20 years.

They have flair.

Could I do it? 

Non-traditional students don’t go home to dorm rooms.  They raise families, recover from battle, manage full-time jobs, and then–then–they can sit down to write their first essay that’s due for my class.  They won’t be at that fraternity party or that pep rally or that ice-cream study break. 

I’m rethinking education:  I want to make every lesson plan an act of service to advance these students efficiently in the direction of their dreams.  I don’t want to waste time, assign texts with exorbitant prices, or set unreasonable expectations.   I’m suddenly aware of the lives students live when they exit the door: their night shifts at Wal-Mart, their babies at home, their aging bodies. 

Not everyone follows the same life narrative.  Especially in this economy. 

I’m also rethinking how I interact with everyone–not just my non-traditional students.  Pursuing education in nontraditional ways represents an act of courage.  For some of us, waking up and putting on our clothes for the day is an act of courage. We make coffee, greet the day, and no matter what backstory has derailed our plans, we press on in our nontraditional paths to our dreams. 

Living with flair means recognizing courage when I see it.

(photo: Rennett Stowe /flickr)

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“The Lincoln”

There’s a new challenge at the pool.  It’s more like a dare, and for teenage boys, it’s hard to resist.

It’s called “the Lincoln.”

I’m watching teenagers take running leaps off the diving board and land flat on their stomachs or backs.  But every once in a while, a boy will complete the impossible trick dive called the Lincoln.

You run, you dive, and mid-air, you turn to the side and do a side flip.

The Lincoln.

“What makes it so hard,” one teenager explains, “is physics.  You’re going one direction, and you have to tell yourself to turn to your side and do a flip in a perpendicular direction.”

I nod, wondering why it’s called the Lincoln.  Then I remember that gravity experiment when a penny falls straight down after you push the round tube it’s sitting on to the left or right.

All the older boys line up and try to do the trick.  Of the group, only one can do it.  The lifeguards cheer.  This is the stuff of summer legend.  Somebody can do “the Lincoln!” 

Then, a little boy, maybe 6 or 7, gets up on the board.  He runs, he dives, and, smooth as butter, turns to his right and flips in the air.  The Lincoln.  Collective silence all around.  The lifeguard stops twirling her whistle.

“No way,” the guy who knows the physics and how hard this dive is says.

The little boy, the one who hasn’t had physics yet and only knows gravity by experience–and not theory–, surfaces, smiles, and says: “That wasn’t hard.  I didn’t even have to think about it.”

Changing direction and form, mid-flight, is hard for anyone.  I hate change.  I hate everything about it.  But watching that little boy just get some speed and do it, without over-thinking the difficulty, inspired me.

Yeah it’s hard to do whatever it is I’ve got to do.  But today, I want to pick up some speed and do it.

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The Best Definition of Courage

My daughter and I were talking about taking her training wheels off and learning to ride a bike.  She became very quiet and said, “You know, Mom, little hills mean little boo-boos.  And big hills mean big boo-boos.”

I said, “So I guess you want to avoid the big hills on your bike.” 

She paused and said, “Oh, no.  It just means we need a bigger first aid kit.”

There you have it:  Courage means I ride full speed ahead, anticipate the wounds, and prepare with a great first aid kit.  For my daughter it means Hello Kitty band aids.  For the rest of us, it might mean we fill our kits with authentic friendships, strong ties to a community, a vibrant relationship to God, and the kind of space to heal.  It’s not the height of the hill that matters.  It’s not the danger, the risk, or the potential for failure.  Wounds are likely.   So I build the best first aid kit I can.  That’s some 5 year old flair.

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