The Quiet Side of Courage
Sometimes a piece of news can change the shape of the world for a while.
So it was on Wednesday when my dear friend Lindsay told me that after months of tests, she’d received a definitive diagnosis. She has ALS.
There’s what you know in the moment, and there’s what you know later. In the moment I knew that I Had To Help. This is my go-to place. Feeling useful fights off powerlessness for a while, or at least pretends to. I’ll make cookies, I’ll write a letter, I’ll get on my bike right now and go to her.
But Lindsay didn’t need cookies or letters or visits. What she needed, it became clear as we spoke, was money.
Can we pause there? Money. There isn’t a lot of poetry to it, but I seem to keep circling back to it in these newsletters. It’s one of those weird silences, like a quiet river we’re all swimming in, refusing to make eye contact. Maybe that’s why it keeps showing up here — part of why I write is to speak what’s unspoken, own what’s disowned, to make our collective silences less loaded, less weird.
But “loaded” and “weird” were how exactly Lindsay was feeling. “I know I should be focused on other things” she said. “I don’t want to dwell on it.” “I want to think that the universe will somehow provide.”
My mind flashed back to twelve or so years ago, Lindsay and I on her 3rd floor walk up balcony, drinking white wine and planning a yoga-writing retreat we would run in the Northumberland Hills. I was new to the self-employed world, just starting this thing that would become Firefly. I was shaky and riddled with self-doubt. I asked Lindsay how she gave up her “real” job to give shiatsu treatments and teach yoga in the community center — how she trusted that it would all work out. Did she worry about retirement? Did she have any great lines I could use on my parents when they begged me to go to teacher’s college?
Lindsay just laughed. “I don’t have a retirement plan, Chris. I’ll work until I die.”
And here we are.
With this kind of ALS, the life expectancy is 2-5 years. First you lose your ability to walk, then talk, then eat, then swallow, then breathe. Lindsay explained this to me with so much love, I could hardly stand it. All week I keep running through it in my head. I’ll lose all those things too, but I don’t know in what order, or how soon.
One thing is clear; she won’t be working until she dies.
I think what Lindsay was saying to me on the balcony was — I just have to. I’m Lindsay. I’m a yoga teacher. This is what I do. And if you’d asked me then too, I would have told you something similar, though my voice would have been wavering.
I talk about this on the first night of a new class. The anxiety can be incredible. I tell them, you’re nervous, that’s okay, it’s good. But know that something inside you is bigger than all that. It got you here. It will take you forward.
It helps a little, but the breath is still short, the knees still woodpeckering under the table. What really helps is writing. It helps because it lets them experience what brought them through the door — their courage.
There’s what you know in the moment, and there’s what you know later. When I got past my instinctual lurch towards cookie recipes, I felt an enormous sense of awe rising up in me. It’s here in my hands as I’m writing. Lindsay lived the life she wanted to live. She gave the gifts she wanted to give. She chose that, despite the odds, and she has no regrets. What is that if not courage?
And by “courage” I don’t mean the ripping-your-shirt-off-and-wrestling-the-crocodile brand, I mean something much quieter. It’s the force that fills us when safety isn’t available and backing down isn’t an option.
I just couldn’t have said to Lindsay on that day, “Maybe you won’t be able to work until you die. Maybe your body won’t allow it. Maybe you should get a job with a pension even if it doesn’t feel good.” And she couldn’t have said any of those things to me. Clearly, my parents couldn’t either. So there we sat on the balcony of the apartment she had to give up this week because she can’t climb the stairs anymore, organizing a retreat we knew we wouldn’t break a profit on, pouring our whole hearts into it, the summer sunshine as resplendent as our joy.
Fear can be a useful thing. But if we just can’t go where it’s pointing us, we need courage to take over.
I’m glad that Lindsay decided to be a yoga teacher. And I’m glad I started Firefly. And I’m glad for every gorgeous soul who pushes past their fear and walks into our studio to write. But holy crap guys, it’s a really hard world to be authentic in. And all I can say is — thank god for company. For warm-hearted strangers around a table who tell us how our writing touched them, for friends on balconies who tell us to go for it, for people who make you cookies even when you don’t really want them.
Which leads me to this – I did end up finding a way to help. I set up a crowdfunding page. I have no expectations, but if you feel moved to pitch in, it’s right here. Thank you to all you dear people who saw it on Facebook and contributed. It’s a small way to help make this hard world a little softer. Lindsay was very reluctant to let me do this, but she had the courage to say yes, and we’ve both been elated to see the support flow in. She was right; the universe is somehow providing.
Also, fall workshops and retreats are up. Each one of them, a quiet invitation to step into your own brand of courage. As you know, we keep these small so they tend to fill quickly. If you’re feeling called to grab a seat, I’d humbly suggest that you take a moment to think that through. We get a lot of emails from disappointed people who didn’t get their names on the list. No pressure. But we’re here. And you don’t have to feel ready to be here too.