Movies are funny things. We use them to entertain us, sometimes to help us forget our workaday world. Good storytellers beckon us from the opening scene, reel our hearts and minds in, catapult us into a world of adventure, and boldly take us where few have gone before. Then the soundtrack fades away, the houselights temporarily blind us and there we sit, legs cramped from sitting still too long, a little dizzy from the dazzling multicolor pixels, and so very grounded to this earth.
Remember that symbol you learned in math? < . Less than. Sometimes when I see a movie with a hero ten feet tall on the big, big screen, that’s how I feel at the end. < . My little, little life does not compare to the wonders of the heroes of old. Or even the achievement of the heroes of new. Already I am 40 years old and I have not discovered any cures for grave diseases, invented technology to simplify daily life or turned around the economic outlook for a community. < .
Those same 40 years of life, however, have taught me something else–a different definition of important and brave. Let me tell you a story that no one will ever make into a movie. I was a teenager once. I know. Hard to believe. Every day I drove to school and drove home. I was a good student and a generally nice kid who got along with most everyone. Every day as I drove down the street just outside that 3 story ancient brick building I saw a girl walking alone. I had met her at the beginning of the school year at an Honor Society function I think. Something inside me felt a little bad each day seeing her walking alone. Alone is a really hard place to be as a teenager. Mostly the unspoken goal during those years is to never be by yourself. Many fifteen year olds pay dearly in ways they never thought they would just to avoid being alone. And there she was, EVERY day alone.
One day it was raining. Not the light sprinkle of a daily tropical palm watering in Florida. Pouring down rain. Windshield-wipers-racing-to-the-left-and-right-and-still-losing-to the-raindrops Michigan downpour. Turning out of the parking lot cautiously, there she was. Walking home alone again, in the rain, without an umbrella. This is when the still, small voice inside spoke. “Offer her a ride.”
I waffled. “I don’t know where she lives.”
“Does it matter?”
“It is so embarrassing. I don’t know what to say.”
“Offer her a ride.”
“I can’t remember her name.”
“She doesn’t remember yours either.”
I negotiated long enough to pass right by her. But the still, small voice was right. And I knew it. I turned around at the light, turned around at the next light, and pulled up beside her.
“Can I give you a ride home?”
So began a friendship, a deep friendship, that lasted only a year before we both went away to colleges far away from each other. We wrote a couple of letters after that, then went on with our separate lives.
17 years later, I was walking through your one-story, aging brick preschool building. A mother with two young children trying to figure out how to manage little people hour after hour. Adjusting to a very small circle of people. Grieving the loss of a child not yet born who had already left us. Disappointed at how unimportant my life felt. Having a < (less than) kind of year. A familiar voice trailed down the hall. My friend.
One of the very first things she said to me that day was, “I was just telling someone about you the other day.” Really? 17 years later? Suddenly I knew, knew deep down in the most important places of my soul, what courage meant. Courage, my children, is listening to the still, small voice and following it. It is not always comfortable. It is not always exciting. Maybe “they” will make a movie about you (who are “they” anyway?), but “they” will probably never even know you exist. Courage won’t matter to all of “them” but it will matter to one of “them”.
Later on in the story, you will see that the still, small voice knows exactly what it is talking about. It has picked out a story of bravery that is made specially for you. Living that story, no matter how big or small, famous or hidden, is an adventure only you can experience. And you will realize you, and your courageous choices, and the still, small voice are > (greater than).
Photo of a statue in Eglise La Madeleine