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The Courage Companion How to Live Life With True Power
By Nina Lesowitz Mary Beth Sammons
Copyright © 2010 Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons
All right reserved.
Chapter One WHAT IS COURAGE?
We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face ... We must do that which we think we cannot. -Eleanor Roosevelt
We live in times of unprecedented uncertainty. Failing to acknowledge this new reality means we live in denial and we risk fully living our lives and surviving the challenges that lie ahead of us.
Often our inability to know the future triggers the fight-or-flight response. We want to run and hide, or else panic sets in. That's because our minds want and seek certainty and security. So living in uncertainty feels a lot like the way we felt as children when we worried about the bogeyman we were certain lived in our closet. The only way we could accept that he was not there was to open that closet door.
Now especially, when millions of us live without health insurance, struggle to make house payments and pay bills, or fear that we will become ill or something terrible will happen to us, we need to embrace courage and tap into the inner power of living courageously. We need to reach deeper inside ourselves to draw from a well of fortitude, strength, and resiliency, and forge ahead with our inner closet doors open.
Living bravely today is all about reaching deep within for a quiet power that guides us through our inner fears and anxieties, and steadies and supports us against outside forces that threaten to shake our foundations. We need to learn how to transition gradually to this new way of thinking about courage.
In this chapter, and throughout the book, we have tried to focus on courage as seen through the lens of its origins. Courage comes from the Old French word corage, meaning heart, and spirit. We have collected stories and offered some of our own that are rooted in the kind of courage that comes from the power of our hearts and spirits, a power that when we manifest it makes the world a better place for ourselves and others.
In researching this book and going to the front lines of people who seem to be living boldly in these uncertain times, we observed that most of the people we interviewed shared one collective quality: Most insisted, "I am not courageous." In fact, they said they felt very afraid. But here's the key that separates those who take action in the face of their fears and those who stay frozen: Courageous people feel their fear but take action anyway. Courageous people admit to being afraid, but they deal with their fears and stand up to them.
Experts say the ability to tap into our courage is one of our most important qualities for success. And they say it is possible to teach ourselves to boost our courage quotient. Courageous people pay attention to the tiny little-engine-that-could voice inside them that says, "I think I can, I think I can," even when they are trembling in fear.
Our goal is not for you to eliminate fear, but to be able to transform it so that you can live fully in spite of it. If we can learn how to relax and reach deep within, we will find creativity, hope, and opportunity in our challenges. We want to introduce you to a team of people who are brimming with bravery, and teeming with verve.
SWEET SUCCESS: COURAGE SERVES UP TURNAROUND OPPORTUNITIES FOR A COMMUNITY OF WOMEN IN THE FACE OF DESPAIR
Courage is looking fear right in the eye and saying, "Get the hell out of my way, I've got things to do." -Author unknown
Across town from each other in Teaneck, New Jersey, two stories of monumentally difficult situations played out during the fall of 2009. At the height of the worst recession in decades, Angela Logan, a single mom of three, saved her home from foreclosure with a bake sale. Meanwhile, at Zoe's Cupcake Café, Miriam Bloom and Jane Fiedler were struggling to crank out some 300-plus cupcakes a day in their tiny shop, which doubles as a nonprofit organization that raises funds to help young teenage moms regain control of their lives, break cycles of poverty and abuse, and graduate from high school with a plan for the future.
Perhaps it was the climate of courage that formed the history of this river town which propelled these baking frenzies. What is certain is that these women fortified their efforts with dollops of bravery and staved off what could have been complete despair. In doing so they created turnaround opportunities for themselves and others.
We're certain that their stories belong alongside those throughout the history of this city of 40,000, where courage has marked its residents with a capital C. Teaneck is no stranger to momentous events that require tremendous acts of bravery. After the defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington, George Washington led his troops through Teaneck to escape the British Army. In the 1960s, Teaneck became the first community in the nation with a white majority to voluntarily desegregate public schools.
In all of their circumstances, from Angela's family facing the loss of their home, to the teens struggling to care for their newborns, to the duo of do-gooders who were trying to offer hope, the plight of these women might make you ask, How do they do it? Where do they find the guts to get out of bed in the morning and face futures that seem so uncertain? What does it feel like when you could lose your home, or you don't have a car, have a sick baby, and could lose your job because you can't afford to hire a babysitter? What keeps you going when it seems the world has your back up against the wall with nowhere to turn?
Certainly the idea of having to reach out to others and admit despair and vulnerability seems terrifying to us. We think it is probably one of most people's greatest fears. That's where bravery stepped in for these women. Through their stories, we have learned that bravery is not about not being afraid. It is about being afraid and forging ahead anyway, even when the world seems to be closing in. That is exactly what these women, and those they inspired, did at a time when most Americans were shaking in their boots with financial insecurity and an uncertain future. Their gutsy, go-getter attitudes invite us all to adopt a spirit of courageousness.
"The baking was easy," Angela Logan recalls. "But it was very hard to have to ask people to buy the cakes and to tell them why. I just decided in the beginning that my pride was less important than saving my children and myself from losing our home. And so I swallowed my pride, smiled, mustered up my courage, and told people what had happened and how I needed their help. I just knew I had to do everything I could to help my family. I think it was probably the toughest thing I have ever had to do in my life."
In 2009, Logan began peeling apples and baking her family's favorite cake one at a time to stave off a threatened foreclosure after a contractor skipped out with the funds she had paid him for some remodeling and some acting gigs dried up when her actors agency shut its doors. She named her delicacy "Mortgage Apple Cake" and sold 100 in 10 days at $40 apiece. The $4,000 allowed her to pay off some bills and qualify for a federal program to lower her monthly payments.
"It was a flash of desperation," Logan says. An actor who has done commercials and stand-up comedy and appeared on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Logan was also in school part-time looking to switch to nursing-steadier work than acting. "I thought, wow-we could sell these cakes, they're so good."
Angela's story of resourcefulness and guts was picked up by an obit writer at a the local weekly newspaper, then exploded in the national media limelight: NBC's Today Show and CNN. So did cake sales.
But operating her entrepreneurial effort out of her kitchen, "with just two pans," was her next challenge. That's when Miriam Bloom and Jane Fiedler reached out to Angela. The duo actually showed up on Angela's doorstep to offer their commercial baking facility and their sales staff to help her churn out and sell her apple cakes.
At the same time, Miriam and Jane were struggling with their own challenges, trying to get the funding to open a home for the teen mothers and their babies, and keep their nonprofit helping the dozens of desperate young women who contact them on their hotline from across the country. But in the midst of their own struggle they were moved by Angela's story and reached out to help.
"There on the TV was someone who was our neighbor, though we didn't know her at the time, but we had a kitchen and place to sell her cakes, so we thought, Why not," Miriam remembers.
Providence swooped in, with perhaps a little pinch of good karma, and in the fall of 2009 Zoe's Place (www. zoesplaceinc.com), the nonprofit that operates in conjunction with the cafe, received $100,000 in funding from Women United in Philanthropy, a Bergen County, New Jersey, organization.
"Most of the women are young mothers trying to do a good job," Jane, who helped bring the café to life, says. "They haven't done anything wrong." Zoe's Place established a helpline (973-458-1007) to provide information, advocacy, and support to the community. They have been inundated ever since with calls from teen moms and pregnant teens, and from care managers representing virtually every organization and agency in contact with the girls. Placing a call to the helpline is all a girl needs to do to obtain emergency services, information, or advocacy for herself and her child.
Still, Jane says, "People don't want to take a chance on them, or they don't have a great work history yet because they're seventeen." That's where the café comes in. Zoe's Cupcake Café hires the young mothers in jobs from bookkeeping to counter sales and management. (The name Zoe means "gift of life," Jane explains.) "These girls have dreams and hopes like everybody else," she says. "What they don't have is the belief that they can realize them."
Angela was immediately moved by the Zoe's Place mission. "In some ways, what Jane and Miriam are doing for these girls and what I was trying to do are one and the same. It was all about homes and a future for families. I decided after all I went through that if I got out, I would do everything I could do to help others. I was very impressed by what these women were doing for girls in desperate situations, trying to fight for a future for themselves and their children. I wanted to help."
Angela sold the license for her apple cake recipe to a New York-based Internet cake supplier, and these days she works at the cupcake shop developing new cake recipes and supporting the effort to help teenage mothers get a foothold in the workplace. (The New York company allows her to continue selling the cakes on her own as well.) Through the courage and resiliency of these female mentors-Angela, Miriam, and Jane-the young women and their babies are all getting a turnaround opportunity.
In addition to her cake-baking entrepreneurial efforts, Angela is looking into becoming a life coach, focusing on helping people who are having financial difficulties.
Courage is at the heart of what happened in Teaneck during the fall of 2009 and is what continues to drive the only chance these moms have for strong, healthy families and hopeful new beginnings.
"The story of courage here is the bravery of these girls and moms like Angela who have such amazing resiliency and have to call on everything inside themselves to put a roof over their children's heads," Jane says. "It takes a lot of courage when you are hurting and have to reach out to others and ask them to help you and trust that these people are good when others have hurt you so deeply. I have great respect for these women who can smile in the face of such anxiety and keep on going."
Jane recommends that at times when we want to throw in the towel and say "I just can't do it," we pause and think of Angela and these teen moms who wake up every morning to face their fears. We will be inspired by their courage. "The takeaway for all of us is to be inspired by their resilience and courage," she says.
COURAGE DOESN'T ALWAYS ROAR. SOMETIMES COURAGE IS THE LITTLE VOICE AT THE END OF THE DAY THAT SAYS, I'LL TRY AGAIN TOMORROW. -Mary Anne Radmacher
Conduct an Internet search for inspirational quotes, and Mary Anne Radmacher's beautiful words above are frequently cited. We decided to track her down to learn what inspires her. She is the author of Lean Forward Into Your Life, Courage Doesn't Always Roar, Promises to Myself, and other motivational books, and her words and art can be found around the world in homes, hospitals, offices, and schoolrooms. For five years, she has presented a writing program for inmates at a medium-security prison in Salem, Oregon. You can learn more about her on her website: www.maryanneradmacher.com.
"People confuse courage with bravery," Radmacher says. "In my life experience, courage is that quiet whisper, that voice at night that says, I will try again tomorrow." She describes how her work teaching prisoners has expanded her understanding of what it means to be courageous, to take a stand: "How do you measure the courage of a felon who has made a commitment to rehabilitation, who has changed his fundamental beliefs, but is still behind bars?"
To stand apart and be different takes an enormous amount of courage, according to Mary Anne. "In any captive population-daycare, eldercare, public schools, or prisons-when you choose to follow the courage of your convictions, when you don't succumb to peer pressure, you are labeled different, and there are often consequences for those differences. In prison, it may result in a punch in the face." She asks, "How many of us would be willing to make a declaration of our changes with such violent consequences?" This is what she means by her observation that "courage doesn't always roar." It may be simply choosing to march to the beat of a different drummer. "For a felon to say, 'I didn't get that right, and I want to do better,' and to show such enormous vulnerability is profoundly courageous," Mary Anne says.
We agree. Finding courage when we are most vulnerable is what having guts is truly about. We may not be incarcerated, but some of us are captive in prisons of our own making. Sometimes we are locked in a job or career where it takes courage to stand up for ourselves, or in a relationship where our souls are trapped-unless we have the guts to speak up and take action.
We ask you to think of places and situations where mustering courage will have its consequences. That is what courage is all about. It is speaking up and taking action, even when the world around us pressures us to stay silent.
TRIUMPH OF THE SPIRIT: INJURED MARINE OVERCOMES SEVERE FACIAL AND SPINAL INJURIES TO WALK-AND SMILE-AGAIN
I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much. -Mother Teresa
As founder of DOCS (Doctors Offering Charitable Services), a group of humanitarian surgeons who transform the broken lives of patients suffering from the most severe deformities, Munish Batra MD has seen horrific injuries. He and his team of physicians at www.docscharity.com donate their surgical reconstruction to operate on last-chance patient cases, the ones that other physicians and medical professionals have given up on. They heal bodies and souls.
The San Diego-based doctors have worked their magic on disfigured children, a severely maimed possible amputee victim, and a woman shot in the face and shoulder with a shotgun by her "boyfriend," to name just some of the people who otherwise were unable to obtain treatment for disfiguring medical conditions and severe injuries.
Their work has been lauded in the international limelight. In May 2010, Dr. Batra and DOCS landed the team on The Oprah Winfrey Show for their work with a 28-year-old female patient born with a rare and extremely disfiguring genetic disorder. Ana Rodarte has had seven surgeries to remove the tumors that covered most of her face and made it increasingly impossible to breathe, eat, and see.
But of all his patients in his private practice (Coastal Plastic Surgeons, www.coastalplasticsurgeons.com), and in the almost nine years since the foundation was launched in 2002, Dr. Batra says there is one patient who epitomizes the definition of courage: Ian Grado is a former Marine whose face was literally torn off and who was left paralyzed after a terrible car accident. It was Ian who inspired Dr. Batra to rally his surgeon peers and launch DOCS.
Excerpted from The Courage Companion by Nina Lesowitz Mary Beth Sammons Copyright © 2010 by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. Excerpted by permission.
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