Thursday, March 09, 2017

Here's to Abe & Atticus

This morning, I found Claire in the act of continuing with this smattering of paint that she was working on last night when the other kids were off playing with friends and I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln and the noble ideals of abolitionism and democracy, honor and courage. 
I had just finished an hour working on writing about the 16th President of our United States, and was thinking about something I'd seen on Instagram this morning---a husband and wife who, together, are sharing their journey to healing. The husband struggled with pornography for over 30 years, and they claim their marriage was unsafe for so long. But they've turned to therapy and healing and openness and honesty, and their marriage is stronger today than it ever was. They are sharing their story and journey with the world. I was (and am!) SO inspired by that. For some reason, we associate mistakes with shame---and the bigger it is, or the more it's against what we truly believe, the more we carry that shame, burying it within us. We hide where we fall short because we don't love it, and we're sure no one else can love us in spite of our struggles, either. 

That makes me so sad, because all of us fall short--in one way or another (and in my case, in several)--and what we all need, more than anything, is love and compassion.

In my life, I've ultimately found healing only insofar as I am willing to look at, and deal, with the truth: about myself, about situations, relationships, my conduct, whatever. And I'm constantly trying to ascertain if I'm being honest with myself about my life, and wondering if I'm seeing things clearly, trying to identify places where I need to (figuratively) clean my glasses. (I often find myself introspective: asking who I really am, if I'm good to others, wondering about my interactions and my motives, wondering whether I'm making any progress toward being a better person than I used to be.)

Do any of you do this?
Or is this just me?
(Insert crying/laughter emoji.)

Just last night I was running, late, and thinking about meekness. I was listening to a man whose words always leave me full: full of thoughts, and full of desire to keep working toward something better. 

Reflecting is good, good medicine for me.

And this morning? When I came upstairs to make breakfast, thinking about and feeling inspired by other people and the ideals of conviction, liberty, honesty and freedom, I started frying eggs. I mixed up some orange juice and spread salted butter and sweet honey on homemade bread when it popped up in the toaster.
My peeps gathered around the table and ate and I read two chapters from To Kill A Mockingbird. And I relished some other words about how to live. The father figure in the book, Atticus, is a lawyer who is defending a black man in the South who has been accused of raping a white girl. Because he accepted the case, he's being called a "nigger-lover." 

He tells his daughter that the case "goes to the essence of a man's conscience" and then adds: "Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man. ...They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions...but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

I love this idea of living true to your convictions, to what you know. That's powerful, and it takes courage.

Later, he's talking with his children about a crotchety old woman down the street who had just passed away, a woman who had battled morphine addiction and was trying to give it up before she died. And she succeeded. She may have been cranky and cantankerous, but Atticus teaches Jem and Scout that real courage is "when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

Fighting the worst that is in us is hard. You have to be brave. But how awesome. And so worth it.

And when they saw their father kill a mad dog with just one shot, Jem and Scout about died. They thought their father hadn't a single notion of what to do with a gun. Only after that shot was taken did they become acquainted with their father's young-man reputation as "One-Shot Finch." And I loved this description their neighbor, Miss Maudie, tells the children about their father:

"If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart. Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent--oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin's different from playing the piano or the like. I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized that God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things. ...People in their right minds never take pride in their talents."

Humility? Not taking advantage of another? Recognizing where our gifts come from, instead of taking credit?

Ummm, YES.

I stood up from the table, the children scattered, and I began to clean it all up as the sun streamed in through the window. The geranium on my table is about to open another gorgeous bloom, and I opened the back door to let fresh air in. Gratitude, like the air I was breathing, was just hanging there in the kitchen.

And you know, Lincoln once said this about equality:

“The author of the Declaration of Independence and the founding fathers who signed it clearly did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not even mean to assert the obvious untruth that all men in 1776 were equal in rights and opportunities. Rather, they meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.” 

Despite lots of things that are unsavory in the world, this whole thing called life is mysterious and lovely and I'm so grateful: for inspiring people and their lives, and for beautiful thoughts, those maxims that encourage you to stretch higher, to be better, to love others, to scorn self pity, to live with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding, and to reach for what is deeper within each of us.

Like Lincoln said, even if we never perfectly attain those things, the ideals give us a standard, and striving will make us better people. Happier people. More full of love. More peaceful: with ourselves and with the world, and more able to contribute to the greater good.
So, here's to Abe and Atticus today.

And I'm not gonna lie: 60 degrees and sunshine isn't a bad gig, either.

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