We all possess qualities and have had experiences that defy the assumptions others have about us. We are stronger, smarter, wiser and more resilient than some people give us credit for. The woman in the photo above (my mom, my hero) grew up to have six children, help family and friends cope with trauma, suffer great losses, start life over again at age 60, and much, much more. I guarantee you, she’s tougher than she looks.
Once, while vacuuming, she found a rhinestone brooch she’d left on the kitchen counter after a dinner out the night before. She pinned it onto her sweatshirt, planning to put it back in her jewelry chest on the next trip upstairs. But before she could get there, my aunt came by for an unexpected visit. My mom has a reputation for dressing nicely and loves her bling. So when my aunt saw rhinestones sparkling on Mom’s sweatshirt, her face lit up with surprise and delight. She thought she’d caught my mom in the ultimate bling fling! Mom got teased about it for decades.
Yet, this woman has mixed concrete and helped dig a well through rock hard blue clay. She’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty, sacrificing for her husband, children, friends, family and strangers in need. She is the embodiment of the words “class” and “lady,” but she’s no pushover. Now barely five feet tall and in her 80’s, she still serves as an example, a rudder and beacon for three generations of offspring, countless friends and far-flung family.
From her I have learned, we are not defined by our looks…
- the degrees we hold – or not
- the cars we drive or income we make
- how many times (if ever) our pictures are in the paper
- whether we make the list of “rising stars” or land in a “who’s who” book
- the schools our children attend or who we’re related to
- how many friends or followers we have on social media
- how quickly we “make rank”
People who shine from within don’t seek the spotlight. (Unknown)
Rather, the test is, do we…
- fulfill the promises we make
- refuse to give up on people we love
- hold ourselves to a higher standard in language, dress and courtesy towards others
- accept apologies from those who feel they’ve let us down
- listen, even though we disagree with someone’s position or opinion
- let go of grudges we’ve carried for years
- cut others slack, since we do not know what burdens they bear or struggles they face
- treat loved ones the same or better than strangers we’re trying to impress
- say “thank you” for gifts received, no matter how small
- redirect the spotlight to shine on those who rarely get credit for their efforts
- refuse to engage in groupthink, strive to learn the backstory and think for themselves
Those are behaviors that make us an “influencer” – someone worth paying attention to. They also include:
The caretakers: the spouse, in-laws, children and siblings who care for loved ones with Alzheimers, cancer, MS, PTSD, depression, anxiety or other afflictions – for months, years, decades without knowing when, or if, things will ever get better. These people are saints in my book. They are stronger than they look.
The first-responders who crawl out of a safe, warm bed and don a uniform in the middle of the night to come to the aid of others. They protect, provide life-saving aid and comfort emotionally and physically broken victims of fire, flood, crime, abuse and neglect. Just like John Coffey in The Green Mile movie, they also absorb trauma, tragedy and human suffering, often to their own detriment.
The whistleblowers: people who lose jobs, homes, friends, family, careers and reputations because they dare to shed sunlight on a sensitive or embarrassing issue. They refuse to compromise their character, suffering smears, retaliation, broken relationships, emotional upheaval, financial devastation and destroyed lives. They wait years for the truth to come out, sometimes in vain. They do what they think is right and pay a price they may never recoup.
Wisdom belongs to those who dare to question their own assumptions, peer opinions, headlines and talking points. In their own quiet, determined way, they are more courageous than most.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all. (Hamlet)
My mom’s nickname was Sassy Susie. It sums up the spirit, the spunk and the backbone of a woman who dares to do housework with a rhinestone brooch pinned to her sweatshirt. She goes about her business, doing what’s right, no matter what. She never seeks the spotlight and she’s much stronger than she looks. She is an influencer…
…as are you.