At first, the thought of combining these words was a bit frightening.
See, I’m leaping into this new Blessed & Grateful blog project and I want to get it right. That means telling stories about the richness and light I treasure in language that speaks both to my dearest friends, fine people who would not be caught dead in a church, and the lovely new people I know through our church.
I’m not promising all sweetness and vanilla, peeps. I am no polyanna. I’ve been lucky, and tough.
To arrive at this place of contentment I had to be brave and a warrior of sorts. And I know this peace can be shattered in one tragic moment.
This journey taught me. It made me.
A few weeks ago I consulted my brave and wise mother-in-law, a retired pastor. She said the Bible offered plenty of examples of flawed people and tough, kind heroes. She was fine with badass. She promised she wasn’t just being nice.
Onward. Then, I started to notice badasses everywhere.
Gracious, Fierce and Fearless
Badasses are kind, gracious, loving people who are also wicked strong, fierce and fearless.
They go for it. They protect those dear. They rise for those who can’t — but never at someone else’s expense.
They do what needs to be done—sometimes with a roar and sometimes so quietly you hardly notice them. They are brave and bold. They speak their truth.
They are not bullies, nor are they nasty.
The people who embody these qualities have a strength that inspires my own.
They are in public life, often unexpectedly — like those incredibly strong, fearless and articulate students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived a horrific mass shooting and one week later stood tall and asked straightforward questions of powerful people. Amazing.
Turns out I’ve been blessed with badasses, drawn to them all along: My mother, my grandmother, my aunts and best friends, my husband and stepsons and plenty of other women and men.
One of my favorite pictures of my grandmother is from August 18, 1945. She is wearing her Army-issued dark skirt, light long-sleeve blouse with a pointed collar, round sunglasses, hat and sensible shoes, walking between two other women dressed in identical skirt-blouse-hat-shoes down a sidewalk in Marseilles, France.
She is looking straight ahead, ignoring the camera.
“Don’t ever tell anyone that you know the center character,” she wrote on the back of this black and white snapshot.
I always wanted to know more of her story than she’d tell.
Magdalene grew up in a small railroad and coal town in Northeast Pennsylvania, wedged among the creases of two mountains. She joined the Red Cross to become a nurse, suspecting it would take her far away to war.
She served as an Army nurse in World War II, and met my grandfather. They returned, married and made their home in Cleveland, where they had five children, including one who died before birth, and my mom, then later 10 grandchildren.
As the story goes, when she inquired about joining the local VFW she was offered a membership intended for women. “She would have none of that, and reminded them that she was an officer,” reported our family historian, my uncle. “She became a regular member.”
She was a maternity nurse who worked nights, and when I was little watched me during the days. She was generous and gracious, a woman of strong Catholic faith, hard worker and the wife of a hard-working public servant and politician.
We called her “Sweetie” because she was all warmth and sweetness. Her lap and bosom was for me a place of pure comfort and refuge from whatever was scary and sad.
Now, that little town where she grew up is cute-as-a-button and a quaint haven for tourists. A century ago, however, living there was a tough life. She both loved it — and knew she needed to get away.
My uncle recently found her grandfather’s death certificate. We learned he died on the railroad, the cause of death was “cut in half.” There must have been plenty she wanted to leave behind in that place.
I’ve always loved that image of her walking down a foreign street, before she was a wife, mom and grandmother. She is cool and confident, rising to the mission, fearless, her whole life ahead of her, ready to serve, ready for an adventure.
My Badass Friend Candace
One cold night in early spring, loud shouting and stomping outside our apartment door caught my attention drawing me away from bed, where I was headed, and out into the hall. My boyfriend and I lived in an old three-story house in Maine with an apartment on each floor.
The young, estranged boyfriend of the single mom who lived upstairs was drunk and belligerent, arguing with three other people as his two-year-old daughter slept inside. The young mom’s mother was there along with the boyfriend’s father. All of their efforts to calm him had failed.
I also attempted to reason with him, and got nowhere.
My friend Candace was not there that night, but she had taught me well. I knew exactly what to do.
Calmly, I confirmed with the single mom that she wanted him to leave, and nicely asked him to leave. Once.
Then, ready to zip out of his stumbling reach if need-be, I pointed my index finger right between his eyes in a jabbing motion, looked him directly in the face, got as close as I dared and shouted at him to
GET OUT. RIGHT NOW. GET OUT. RIGHT NOW.
The language was slightly more colorful. I repeated.
He retreated, stumbling, out the front door, off the porch to the sidewalk and away.
I did not have kids. But I did have a mama-bear instinct to protect the people who lived in that house. They would soon be my tenants, as I was buying the building.
After drunk guy had gone that night, I realized I was covered neck-to-ankle with the cutest brown and black kitty-cats all over my flannel pajamas. I had not stopped to think about that, nor to be afraid. Gratefully, he did not have a gun. I knew I’d be OK.
When drunk guy returned around 2 am, I called the police from behind my locked door. As far as I know, he never came back. Soon, we installed a lock on the exterior door to the house, gave keys to our tenants and kept it locked.
Growing up, I did not have to deal with drunk people. But my friend Candace did. One October night when our annual Halloween party was winding down she didn’t like the way a drunk guy was talking to me. He had come to the second-floor of our single-family house, where our overnight guests were already sleeping in the bedrooms and Candace and I were changing out of our costumes.
When Halloween drunk guy started banging on all the doors, my answer was to reason with him. I got nowhere.
When he got more belligerent, Candace snapped. Still wearing her very scary vampire makeup, she burst from around the corner, got right in Halloween drunk guy’s face, pointed and shouted at him to GET DOWNSTAIRS RIGHT NOW.
I can still see Halloween drunk guy scampering down the steps as fast as his feet would take him, his hospital johnny costume barely covering his pasty white backside.
My friend had always been so sweet, kind and gracious. That night I learned that when provoked she could be fearless for a purpose.
My mom was a single mom who worked full-time, earned her MBA one course at a time and took care of me, making sure we went on vacations no matter how tight the money was.
My badass businesswoman aunt opened and now runs a hugely successful women’s fashion boutique with her business partner, also a smart business woman.
My husband, a school teacher and administrator, doesn’t put up with his students’ bad behavior (nor mine!) He’d never raise his voice to tell you, though, and instead sets an example. (OK, and that letter M his eyebrows make when he pinches them together in that confused look of whattheheckareyoudoing?)
My stepsons show strength, intense discipline toward their goals and compassion for others.
My friend is raising two boys with her husband, works part-time, waking up early to run and carving out time to paint.
My neighbor and friend takes care of her family and five grandchildren and is always asking if we need anything.
A wonderful friend had a baby, and is raising her daughter on her own — on purpose.
Badasses, all of them.
And the so many — too many — dear friends who have faced breast cancer, beat it and then because of lasting effects, must reach for their new normal. Life is never the same.
My friend has beat cancer multiple times, raised two fine sons with her husband, retired as a communications professional, volunteers in her community, speaks her mind and cuts through the BS.
Another dear friend beat breast cancer and is passionate about creating new, gorgeous jewelry, exquisite works of art.
A best friend since college who beat breast cancer, is raising two boys with her husband and is a hugely successful marketing professional.
Candace, too, beat breast cancer and is now re-prioritizing her life. “I am fiercely looking for the next version of myself and the creative pursuits to compliment this new/old person,” she responded (and gave her blessing to share her answer.) “Probably the scariest thing I’ve faced yet — to get out of treatment and not recognize myself anymore.”
Badasses. Incredibly inspiring.
Super-heroes for These Times
I wondered about all this one January Sunday, then settled in to watch the Golden Globe awards.
Oprah’s speech that night said it all, beautifully. These times both require great strength and are giving us great heroes.
Kesha every time she performs “Praying,” Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn who battled terrible injuries and never, ever gave up. All the Olympians with their stories of what they overcame and how they battled to reach the games, maybe even the podium.
We need these people.
Maybe badass isn’t even the right word. Not long ago, it meant to be mean and bully and was negative, a way to pop the big selfish ego of bravado.
The Guardian newspaper out of the U.K., reported at the end of 2015, that badass had become a positive descriptor for women behaving like men, taking on strength and toughness of men, that it stood for feel-good feminism, empowerment. And that its usage had peaked.
It hinted at the evolution of the word’s meaning beyond women acting like men, toward a new dimension of positive description of a woman in her own right, not defined in relationship to men or by men.
Sounds good. Let’s go. These times feel right.
And if badass falls short, let’s find a new word — or re-invent a familiar one. Super-hero?
We can be our truest, very best blessed, grateful and badass selves. Super-heroes for ourselves and each other.
We can be good and strong and fiercely committed to become our best versions, people who demand and support justice, people who protect the vulnerable, people who rise to the occasion, who tell the truth, who use all of our talents — strength, honor, intuition, finesse, communication — for a greater good.
People who serve. But are not so meek and selfless that we are doormats or silent. You gotta have backbone.
I’m ready to be extra fearless.