I have often wondered how I’ve survived some of my life’s experiences AND still want, more than anything else, to help others. I recall my father on a number of occasions being truly worried that my upset, outbursts, or anger were the seeds of a serious mental disturbance. He would say in frustration, “I don’t want you to have a nervous breakdown!” All I wanted was for him to listen to me and understand me. Of course he was being well-meaning, as many men of his generation who had little contact with modern psychology. But he (and I) also didn’t realize that my emotional frustration was often the result of my being a highly sensitive person pushed beyond my limits.
What Dad did not realize was that I felt I had been very close to a nervous breakdown on a number of occasions…kind of like Aunt Charlotte brilliantly played by Bette Davis in Now Voyager (a film too autobiographical for words, without the family fortune and the Back Bay manse, of course!). But why did I not have the “luxury” of such an event? How could I keep inside of me the utter devastation I felt in the face of bullying and rejection, both at home and among peers? An article written by Pegge Erkeneff called Grit and Grace helped me to clarify my experience and name my gift. I had developed grit!
She writes: Grit is forged deep in the belly of a person, is stronger than resilience, and is located in the very cellular structure of our anatomy. Grit is a pearl; translucent, luminous. Imagine the woman whose skin is etched with lines and whose eyes glow with bright, welcoming, healing power. Or the man whose gruff, worn hands are tender, gentle. Or the child—or person of any age— who is ridiculed, bullied, and chooses not to respond with the same acts that cause harm.
I was that child and I am that man.
A characteristic of grit is to choose life, even if depression, grief, or debilitating illness is occurring. Grit is not the same as pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, as an adage advises. (Sometimes we don’t have any bootstraps to tug on.) Grit with grace is an interior rotation toward living, continued breath, vision, and purpose. Grit with grace moves beyond self-centered survival into a dance of life-affirming-life.
How about you? Do you exhibit a storehouse of good old-fashioned grit? How did you come by it? What did you have to surrender to in order to receive your share of this gift of grace? Can you witness and celebrate the fortitude in your life that is upheld by this foundation?
Courage, perseverance, determination, and choosing life in spite of trials and suffering have been my own constant calls. But I also need to add in the voice of joy, compassion, art and empathy rising from my gritty heart. That’s why I’m proud to be the man I am for others.
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