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Models for Living a Life of Courage
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” -Amelia Earhart
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” -Harriet Tubman
March is Women’s History Month, and my younger daughter, Emmeline, is completing a school history project on Amelia Earhart, who said: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.” I am so glad there are women my daughters can look to as models of daring, bravery, and breaking of stereotypes. In fact, my daughter is named after another famous woman in history, Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragist who fought fiercely for women to have the right to vote.
Personally, I have always liked Harriet Tubman as a role model. Nicknamed Moses, she brought thousands of slaves through the Underground Railroad to safety and freedom. I admire Harriet Tubman because she took personal risks in service of freedom—not just for herself, but also for many others. She wore men’s clothing, had a ransom placed on her head, was repeatedly lashed, and had a two-pound weight thrown at her head. She didn’t give up. She also didn’t reach a place of safety only for herself and call it a day. She went back to help others, again and again. Tubman wasn’t spending her time worrying about her hair, what new products to buy, how to get a man, or what other people thought of her. She had family members, friends, and fellow slaves who were suffering and in bondage. She followed the path that called, and then trusted in Spirit to guide her.
A more recent model of courage is Sister Judian Breitenbach, founder of the Namaste Center in LaPorte, Indiana, and a Catholic nun. Also a hospital nurse for many years, she became dissatisfied with Western medicine. In the early ’90s, she befriended Dr. Deepak Chopra and opened the Healing Arts Center in South Bend, which focused on holistic healing. Unfortunately, that Center was closed for reasons beyond her control—an emotionally painful experience for Sr. Judian. Yet, she didn’t give up. She fought many personal battles in her efforts to help people gain access to alternative healing methods. In 2002, she founded the Namaste Center. The Namaste Center offers Traditional Oriental Medicine, meditation, acupuncture, yoga, and other healing modalities. You can read more about Sr. Judian who passed away on March 7, 2013, by clicking here.
Who are your role models? Whose life do you admire? Who reminds you to stay strong when you feel discouraged or feel like giving up? Who models the values and life choices that inspire you to be your absolute best self? Who helps you have the courage to voice your deepest desires and heartfelt dreams?
If we can’t find someone in history who represents the kind of role model we need, then perhaps we can be that for each other.
In joy & gratitude,
Diana J. Ensign
Thank you for this beautiful and gentle blog.
Two of my oldest friends are also two of the most inspiring women I know. Carol Chase Bjerke is an artist who, when faced with colon cancer, turned her experience into an installation piece called “Hidden Agenda.” To say this is ground-breaking is an understatement. It is by turns beautiful and deeply distressing. Her book, documenting the installation, was published by University of Wisconsin Press. I recommend it to anyone who has had an ostomy! She did not turn away from one feeling; she did not at all embrace the slick descriptions that came with various ostomy care products presenting ostomy as just an inconvenience; and in the end, she created an incredible meditation wall based on the enso and the (for her) rhythm of ostomy care. Her deepest wish is to motivate someone to find a better way; this crude surgery was invented at the time of the civil war and has not been much changed since.
Lois Hartzler, moved by the potential disappearance of the stream which ran through her farm, became a water activist. “Think,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “what it would be like to be a grandmother who couldn’t even give her granddaughter a drink of water.” Five years ago, she was supposed to die of the brain cancer she suffered. Declared “in remission,” in January, she is resuming her life as a jazz singer and activist (she is now in her mid 70s), protesting fracking and CAFOs in Michigan, and all over the world.
I have been so inspired by many women, but two in particular stand out. Back in seventies Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott wrote a book called, “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor.” There is no telling how my life might be different had I known about the book in 1978 when it was published. To say taking a stand that gay people should share equally in fellowship in the Christian church was courageous is the understatement of the year. Today it’s still a courageous stand, thirty five years ago it was unbelievable. It makes me cry just thinking about how someone can be that brave.
Now, I am fortunate to count these women among my treasured friends.
So Virginia and Letha, here’s to you and all the women who are not afraid – to those who walk way out ahead of the pack in order to show us the way forward.
Closer to home, a role model for me and for my sister Cindy is Gloria Finnegan (our mother) who served as local Union President and also transferred jobs from school cafeteria cook & cafeteria manager to a job on the grounds crew (hauling bags of dirt or wood chips for the playground and driving a snowplow) … at a time when no other women worked on the school grounds crew; the men let her know in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want her in that job (which paid a lot more!). She fought many battles on behalf of workers and on behalf of women’s rights to equal pay and equal job opportunities and has always represented courage and perseverance!
With much love & gratitude for all those who pave the way and make it smoother for those of us who follow~
Thanks mom! : )
Diana & Cindy
I think of Sr. Joan Chittister and Sr. Simone Campbell for all their courageous work for social justice and their unwillingness to accept a male-orientated and patriarchal church…personally I’d be thrilled with either of them as the next pope, but am not holding my breath!! Sharon Salzberg and Pema Chodron have also guided me…and then the women I know personally who care deeply for their families and for our world…how blessed I have been to have Sue as my wife, and you as my friend…blessings! Charlie
Thanks so much for your kind comments Diana and Cindy.I personally think of SO many women that took jobs in the mines and the garment factories that paved the way for all of us!! and of course grandma Bujacks sister that lived with her female companion 60 years ago when it would have been very difficult!
Thank you Lee, Marg, Charlie, & Gloria for sharing your reflections! …other people have sent emails mentioning single moms as also deserving of recognition; and there are, of course, our friends, sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, daughters, and so many more!! Every time we take a new step, face our fears, or follow our passions, we are modeling courage! : )