How will you spend your courage,/Her life asks my life.
No courage spent of/Bloodshot/gunshot/taproot/eye –
How will you make your way?
Then, respond to the day/some other way than blind –
– from The World Made and Unmade by Jane Mead
Woman to woman. Woman to world. How will we spend our courage? How will we make our way? How will we respond to the day some other way than blind?
After the presidential inauguration, I find these words from Jane Mead’s elegiac collection of poems, which she wrote for her dying mother, taking up an unlikely yet entirely welcome residence in my mind and heart. In poetry this perfect, I do not wish to dilute eloquence and true meaning. And in poetry this perfect, I accept that much meaning is entirely possible. That the literal can become transcendent. That the particular can meet a kindred universal soul. So, when I read Jane Mead’s poem, I’m thinking about the time we are in. A time when courage, more than cash, is our most powerful currency. A time when moving forward, not backward, is our only true choice. A time when each and every day, with eyes wide open, is the way we must respond.
One woman to another, one generation to the next, one question for all – How will you spend your courage? I mean the kind of courage that can only truly be understood woman to woman. I mean the kind of courage that finds a collective voice as millions of women march in Washington, DC, and around the world. Women, especially women of color, know this kind of courage well, and it is not new.
More than a century ago, Mother Caroline Friess, SSND, the North American foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, emboldened young women to keep moving forward, every day, with eyes wide open. And, she empowered women to keep their eyes on a very worthy prize. To pursue an education for themselves and to teach others for whom access to education had been denied. In doing this, with great courage and heart, she changed the world. With these nine words, “Now take new courage, and make it your own,” she started a movement, formed a congregation, and inspired a powerful sisterhood that is thriving today at Caroline Center.
Five years ago, when I came to Caroline Center, I probably knew more about the power of privilege than the power of courage. Day to day, week by week, the experiences of my sisters at Caroline Center changed me. While every woman’s life experiences and life circumstances are different and unique, the challenges we face are felt by all of us; and, the hope that we have in the struggle to overcome our challenges belongs to each of us.
How will you spend your courage? While numbers and statistics can never, ever tell the whole story, the trainees who are enrolled at this mind-bending time in our country’s history, most assuredly, will graduate both rich in courage and generous and smart in how they spend it. They will have good work. Meaningful work. They will have new careers. Opportunities for advancement. Better lives. But, their newfound courage will be their greatest legacy; the one, sure sign of the transcendent power of sisterhood.
Here’s what the numbers say about where our current trainees are upon enrolling at
Caroline Center this month:
- 100% are experiencing poverty and underemployment
- 57% are working at least one job while attending the program full-time
- 46% cannot afford basic public transportation
- 36% require food assistance; more are food insecure
- 25% need supplemental support for child care expenses
- 23% are experiencing utilities cut-offs; more are at risk for cut-offs
- 16% have eviction notices; more are experiencing housing insecurity
- 68% are working one-on-one with our financial counselor
- 70% are receiving individual counseling
In 15 weeks, we know that because Caroline Center is here for them, these women’s lives will be markedly different – more independent, more confident, more fulfilled, more hopeful. And, if it is even possible, more courageous. We know that the quality-of-life indicators that point to the highest levels of stress in their lives will begin to improve. And, we know that one number will shine brighter than the rest: 100% of Caroline Center graduates will experience meaningful employment with excellent additional opportunities for career and academic advancement.
Naoki Higashida’s name may not be familiar to you, but the book he wrote in Japanese when he was 13 years old, using a simple letter board to communicate because he has severe autism, has this profound piece of wisdom: “Everybody has a heart that can be touched by something.” This is not an “alternative fact.” It’s just the plain truth. As women, we need to believe that “something” is courage. We want the world to see that “something” is courage. Because courage is what we’re bringing. It’s the way we will make our way. It’s the way we will respond to the day, some other way than blind.
- Naoki Higashida’s book, The Reason I Jump, was first published in 2007 in Japan by Escor Publishers Ltd. In 2013, Random House published the book in English as translated by David Mitchell and KA Yoshida.
- Jane Mead’s poem, “How will you spend your courage,” is in her book The World Made and Unmade, which was published by Alice James Books in August 2016. The World Made and Unmade is Jane Mead’s fifth collection of poems.
- “She The People” by artist Shamsia Hassani (pictured), the first female graffiti artist in Afghanistan, photo by citylab.com
- “Women Are Perfect,” photo by Sait Serkan Gurbuz
- Cover image from What It Takes magazine, photo by Ryan Stevenson, RaRah Photo
- Caroline Center pharmacy technician, photo by Howard Korn, Howard Korn Photography