I’ve read that when we write what we fear, we give our words power. It follows, then, that if we infuse our words with power, we will, in turn, empower our readers. So, in the spirit of facing our fears and empowering one another with the will to do all that is right and good in this world, I would like to begin what promises to be a lengthy post with an excerpt from my current manuscript project. A little vulnerability does a body good, yes?
“Racing around the corner of the house, I come to a dust-clouded halt in front of the open car trunk. I stretch out my little girl arms, fingers wiggling, eager for Daddy to hand me my next load of groceries.
“Why are you back so fast,” he asks a bit gruffly. “Jimmie went in before you.”
“Oh, he met me at the porch and took my bag. He didn’t think I was strong enough to carry it up the stairs.”
Daddy stops digging in the trunk and turns to face me. Feet firmly planted below shifted knees, he looks at me in silence. Eager to catch up with my brother, I smile back, not really noticing his cloudy eyes. Then, in either child’s folly or fortune, I blink, never seeing the blow – a woosh of wind, the crash of a hand against the side of my head. I’m confused, air born and falling. Blinded.
I land hard, feet in the air, hands stinging from breaking my fall. My eyes and brain feel out of place, and I blink over and over again, trying to focus. The tears stream hot, my fingers gingerly searching the left side of my face, my ear as they burn with pain. The fog begins to lift, and I see him, standing over me. He is bent, a thick, nicotine stained finger pointing into my face. He’s not confused or caring or worried, and I realize it was him. His hand, and he’s not going to comfort me. He’s not going to say he’s sorry.
Confused, I start to cry. “Stop crying!” He says. I look at him with incredulity. Still waiting childishly, foolishly, for a father’s sympathy. How do I stop crying, I wonder.
“I said, SHUT UP!” Ah, there will be no sympathy.
“When I tell you to do something, you do it. YOU, not someone else. You do EXACTLY what I say, understand? I am your father. I am the boss. Savvy?”
Unable to speak, I suck in my tears and nod my head, trying hard to swallow the hiccups, afraid to move my hand to wipe my face.
Cautiously, I meet his eyes and whisper, “Yes, Daddy.”
“Now, get up and take this bag into the house.”
Choking back the sobs, the hurt, and the betrayal, I grasp the bag with both hands and heave. I see the red cap of a gallon of milk, amongst other things. It’s heavy, but I say nothing. I swallow the bitter taste of my first true anger and shuffle forward. The bag drops. I pick it up.
Repeating the process over and over, I eventually round the corner of the house. Angry, stubborn, and compliant.
Jimmie bounds off the porch and stops me. “What are you doin’ carryin’ that, Sissy? It’s bigger than you are! Here, give it to me.”
The bag plops down unceremoniously, and I shake my head no. Sucking down a silent sob, I fail to conceal the telltale shudder but reach down for the bag anyway, without looking at my brother. I feel his hand on my shoulder. “Sissy?” I look up, but unable to meet his eyes, I look beyond his shoulder to my favorite old oak. “Daddy told me to carry it myself,” I mumble.
Jimmie takes my chin and pulls me up to meet his gaze. We say nothing. It’s not necessary. His eyes are a little more gray than blue as he lets go and says, “Here, don’t carry it by the edges. Wrap your arms around the sides like a big hug. It’ll be easier to carry that way.”
He stands waiting, watching over me as I trudge up the stairs and pull open the door with my foot.”
We talk a lot these days about empowerment. So much so that I think we begin to look outside ourselves to find someone to give us a power that we assume we inherently lack because, if we had inner power, our lives would be better. We wouldn’t have self doubt, we could conquer the world before noon, solve world hunger and give everyone a puppy. With empowerment comes a higher quality of life. We can mold ourselves into whatever we want if we just will it to be so, or so we’re told. But, I think a misunderstanding has pervaded our culture – a simple misunderstanding of the word empowerment.
If you look up the word in any number of dictionaries, you will come up with a meaning something like this, “To equip or supply with an ability” or “To give power or authority.” These definitions imply that empowerment means to supply an individual or group of people with an ability they don’t already possess, and then help them learn to wield that power. I would like to talk about another kind of empowerment – that of identifying and accepting the powers we already possess but, for whatever reason, we have allowed to lie dormant within us.
I don’t know where a sense of no control over one’s own destiny comes from. Some past psychological issues, no doubt, or perhaps genetics, apathy or even illness. “Life” in general, I suppose, can become the bushel under which we hide our light. I will use myself as an example. I developed into an odd combination of a somewhat good nature, intelligence, humor, creativity and stubborn will, but no power. I became used to being told what to do at a young age, and lived restrained. I let people seek me out, thinking for too many years that love and success would stumble upon me and think I was special, but some universal rule that seemingly only applied to me required that I not put myself forward.
I was mistakenly thought shy by some, including myself at times. But really, I had learned to live and survive in a responsive environment. What or who did I need to be according to someone else? If people didn’t flat out tell me who they wanted me to be for them (and believe me, some people did), I sat back and waited for clues and cues – awaiting my time on stage to play a part. Over time, I realized that I was not being true to myself and, in sink or swim fashion, slowly started to break the surface of who I really am inside.
In my journey, I have often thought of a story my Mama (Yes, I call my mother “Mama”) shared with me from her own childhood. She told me that in about the third grade, her teacher wrote a note to my grandmother. Mama’s grades were perfect, but the teacher mentioned my mother’s quietness. She remarked how “Marcella does not know how much power she really has.”
Now, my mother is hands down one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, and remains a powerful force in my life. So, for the longest time, this story baffled me. How could this tigress of a human not have known how powerful she was? Then I grew up and gained some perspective. The child Mama was is not the woman I now know. Somehow, through trials and struggles, heartaches and “have-to’s,” she sloughed off whatever that greatness was hiding under. She became that which she already was.
So, maybe instead of searching for some outside force to give us permission, like a spouse or employer, maybe we should instead seek opportunities to discover and release our own inner abilities and strengths. Look for moments of encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes life forces these moments of revelation upon us, and other times, we have to reach for them. The giftings are there, lying dormant. Like an oil soaked torch in need of a flame – a little spark to ignite and inspire.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what the secret is, or where the key lies that will unlock the door to your inner power. I’m still discovering my own. It’s a mystery that we each must solve for ourselves. But, I think the most important thing to remember is that it’s there, somewhere, in you. It always has been, and it always will be. You just have to make friends with your power, and use it for good.