The Perils and Joys of Following My Heart

Photo by Hernan Pauccara on Pexels.com

I’ve had so much drama in my life that I have a tendency to shy away from conflict. When people become emotional and argumentative I try to smooth over the situation and walk away. I make grand attempts to keep my world calm and happy. I prefer overlooking personal insults or slights to becoming engaged in disagreements. I have been known to defer to the demands of someone insisting that I change to their way of doing things. Most of the time the impact of my peacekeeping has fallen on me and I don’t mind the inconveniences that surrendering in some instances has caused me. I generally have far more important battles to fight and I am a proponent of rarely sweating over the small stuff.  

Now and again I find myself in situations in which morality and fealty demand that I stand firm in my beliefs. No matter the cost, I must speak out. Such occasions are usually quite painful and often result in loss of relationships that I had thought to be solid and unbreakable. I have lost sleep over them and prayed earnestly that my choices have been wise rather than based solely on emotions. It takes courage and steadfastness to do what I believe in my heart to be right. 

Most such occasions have centered on very personal incidents such as finding the best care for my mother when her mental illness raged out of hand. She was a noncompliant patient to the very end of her life and we sometimes engaged in soul crushing fights about her need for therapy and medication. I had to persist in my demands that she see her doctors and follow their instructions. In her mind I came across as a control freak intent on ruining her life. For my part the child in me wanted to run away from my responsibility so that I might ignore the venom that spewed from her mind when she was in a psychotic state. I had to gird myself and fight for her even when my courage wavered. I learned from our battles when there could be no retreat and how to broker peace. Love was my shield and my spear. It guided me in doing what I had to do. 

I’ve had other experiences in my professional life that demanded that I not simply look away. I have had to shine a light on abusive practices from both parents and educators more than once. I had to muster every ounce of bravery that I had to defend both students and teachers from individuals who should never have been given the responsibilities of working inside schools. Sometimes rather than remain silent about injustices I had to stand up to administrators who had the power to dismiss me. At times I stood alone because others were afraid to join my crusade. Holding onto principles can be a very lonely experience. 

Nonetheless I remain humble and a bit guilt ridden because more often than not I have preferred to maintain the status quo, to remain calm rather than stir up a hornet’s nest. I have to admit to being a people pleaser, someone who longs to make people happy. I would prefer having someone else assume the role of truth teller. I like being able to hide behind the mantle of a true hero, someone who regularly tilts windmills and questions the way we treat our fellow humans. I so admire those willing to withstand horrific criticisms in order to do what they believe to be right. I mostly dream of being like them rather than actually becoming a true champion. 

Since this time last year the world has been turned upside down. Twelve months ago I was happily planning trips and filling my calendar with plans to attend the Houston Rodeo and to see a live performance of Elton John. I naively thought that I was in the slow quiet phase of my life when I would no longer be called upon to engage in a contentious battle for my principles. I had almost become immune to the bombast of our president. In essence I had simply tuned him out because I found most of what he said to be offensive blather. I did not realize the extent to which he had electrified a sizable portion of the electorate with his poisonous fears even though younger friends and members of my family were warning me of this.

Then came the pandemic and the realization that Trump was not up to the task of leading the nation to safety. He tried for a time but grew bored with the heavy lifting, instead wishing and hoping that by some magic it would all simply go away. He discouraged his followers from listening to the science. He led them by refusing to wear a mask or forego his crowded rallies and parties. He eventually even hurled insults and innuendo at the medical people who were valiantly fighting the war against the virus.

Then came the Black Lives Movement and instead of inviting its leaders to confer with him he threw gasoline on the situation by instead focusing on incidents of violence rather than the bigger picture of sincere citizens attempting to demonstrate their frustrations with an often inequitable and racist system. He had an opportunity to be a real hero but instead he bolstered his popularity with his base by making it seem unpatriotic to point out the flaws in our nations’s history that have yet to be resolved. 

As we approached election day our president became more and more concerned about his own prospects for reelection than about the cries of citizens suffering all across the land. The frenzy of his speeches and rallies created division and unfounded fears. He had no policies to present, only a litany of untruths and half truths that created anxieties at a time when his job should have been to reassure us all. 

I had to speak up publicly and on record as all of this unfolded. I saw this as a moment in which remaining silent and hoping for the best would be the most unpatriotic thing that I might do. Every ounce of my being warned me that we were on the threshold of a clear and present danger and like Paul Revere and others who rode with him I had to voice my concerns. The price I have paid is higher than I ever imagined. My patriotism has been questioned and I have borne the brunt of bruising insults. I have been unfriended by relatives and people I thought to be my friends. It has been an emotional journey but I am proud of myself for refusing to turn back.

When I watched the horror of January 6, 2021, unfold at our nation’s Capitol I knew that I had been right in my assessment of President Trump and his manipulation of the people of this this country. Sadly I had not understood the extent to which his constant barrage of lies and fear mongering had driven so many of my fellow citizens into a frenzy of insurrection. Even I had underestimated the effect of his negative rhetoric on people some of whom had become cult like in their deference to him. I did not fully realize how horrific things would become because so many overlooked the worst aspects of his personality defects  and chose to be silent even when they knew that he was pushing his followers to an allegiance not to the country, but to him. 

Now it is time for our president to pay the price of his inglorious behavior. It is time for those who encouraged him to lose their credibility and power as well. We must heal from the pandemic. We must finally face racism in our midst head on. We have to ask ourselves what we need to do to move our country forward, not backward. We can no longer simply look the other way when we see or hear hate being voiced. I expect to be fighting this late battle in my life until I have no more voice. This is the remarkable peril and joy of following my heart.