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Standing on the shoulders of fearless people

July 7, 2010

I made a big scary decision this week about something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. (More on that in the weeks to come.) Since then, I have been waffling between excitement and pure unadulterated terror.

I was cycling to work yesterday when one of those terror moments struck. “What do you think you’re doing?” said the voice of fear. “This won’t work, you’re foolish, you’ll fall flat on your face and end up regretting this decision for the rest of your life… blah, blah, blah.” You know the gig – I don’t have to spell it out for you.

But then another voice showed up. A more gentle and yet bold voice. “Remember whose shoulders you’re standing on.”

When I was at ALIA last month, Meg Wheatley asked us a question that has stuck with me since. “What are the fearless things your forbears have done? On whose shoulders are you standing?”

As I pedalled my bike, my fearless forbears lined up in my mind. My Mennonite ancestors who faced martyrdom for their faith and their commitment to pacifism, justice, and community. Those who’d left Russia to come to Canada because they believed in non-resistance and wanted to live in a place where they could claim conscientious objector status in times of war. Those who’d fought the harsh elements to build homes and livelihoods for themselves in Canada. And then my parents who’d uprooted their three small children (I was one year old at the time) to move to a small town where they knew no one but felt a calling to reach out to people there (and I can tell you oodles of stories of the people whose lives they touched).

Suddenly, my decision didn’t feel so risky anymore. “If these people can risk life and livelihood for what they believe in, then I can take a few chances too,” I thought. “They have paved the way for me – cleared some of the rubble from the path long before I even came along so that life could be smoother and more free.”

The fearlessness didn’t end with my forbears. Later that day, I was amazed at how many stories started showing up (randomly, through links forwarded by friends, people’s blog posts, newspaper articles, etc.) about people doing fearless things that surely gave them many, many moments of terror and self doubt. One of my favourites is the story of the family that sold everything to spend three years biking from Alaska to Argentina. Imagine!

And so I ask you today… on whose shoulders are you standing? What brave things have been done in your lineage that make it easier for you to follow your path and face the things that scare you? Or what stories outside of your lineage have inspired you to be a little more fearless?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2010 2:49 pm

    This might sound silly, but tomorrow I have booked an appointment to have a wisdom tooth pulled – something my dentist advised 17 years ago. I finally got up the courage. Mind you, the appointment is still 15 hours away – plenty of time to chicken out! I haven’t been feeling very brave lately at all, just the opposite in fact, so your image of standing on the shoulders of my fore-runners was quite meaningful.

  2. July 7, 2010 5:10 pm

    There’s a certain bravery to immigrants, especially those of the early pioneer type.

  3. Dovelily permalink
    July 7, 2010 7:47 pm

    Ooh! That IS food for thought! I’m sure we have some fearless folks in our family tree. I’ll need to ponder that one…

  4. July 8, 2010 8:10 am

    I think the bravest things I’ve done is to change country of residence, twice. I moved to Belgium around my 21st birthday, with £200 and a few possessions. Of course, I knew that I could always get the ferry back to England and my parents! That move made it easier when my husband, 15 years later, announced that he wanted to move to the States and I knew I’d be in charge of wrapping up our entire lives in Belgium – house, cars, company and all the rest.

    Now my attitude is, “another international move? Bring it on!” because I know that every country has its advantages as well as its drawbacks.

    I don’t have any brave stories from my ancestors, who all seem to have been homebodies. So maybe I’m blazing a trail. My youngest is talking about spending a year au pairing in France as if it’s nothing at all – I have raised an adventurer!

  5. July 8, 2010 8:16 am

    I know that this story in and of itself is not that unique among people but I never cease to be amazed by the story of my great-grandfather who left his family in Greece at the age of 16. He lied about his age so that he could board a ship and come to the United States. He did all of this, finding work, changing his last name (which must have been disorienting by a bit) from Stavroangelopoulos to Simonds and supporting himself. He later married by great-grandmother who herself had left Portugal with her family and came to California via Hawaii.

    My life is so safe today, my rights guaranteed and despite a faltering economy opportunities still abound for me because of the brave choices of my ancestors. In that perspective, any “scary” choice I have to make seems awfully benign.

  6. July 8, 2010 4:27 pm

    One of those brave Mennonites who fled Russia and landed in Manitoba truned 100 today. She is my husband’s grandmother. Just celebratin’.

  7. July 17, 2010 8:36 pm

    Well.. you’ve got me super curious. I’m in a place where I don’t have any courage or confidence. I think “Heather can do anything.” Wish Pamela could.

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