For the last year or so I’ve written a lot about using stories as self care, a balm for the soul in dark times. This remains a way of using stories that rings true for me, but for the last month or so I have also started turning to stories for something else: a guide on grit and determination.
I was not wrong to seek a balm at first. Things were growing darker and trying to make sense of all the change and raising a fist against the downward slide is exhausting. Stories provided a safe haven from the storm.
As the last couple of years have slid by, I now find that what I envisioned as blackest night to be but a pale shade of grey in comparison to the void before us. Soothing the soul is not enough anymore. Somehow we need to rise each morning with the energy to live our daily lives, as well as fighting the good fight.
We still need to write, create, work, tend the garden, clean the bathroom, etc. etc. If we’re caught in a cycle of news, burnout, and righteous anger, the daily work starts to lose significance and fall to the wayside. As our Creative Director, Tara Lindsey likes to say: We need to be present in our lives and make sure we live a good life each day, whatever that means to you.
A valid outlook, but I’m left wondering how to be more present without missing what’s going on. More importantly, I wonder how to balance that without burning the candle at both ends and being overwhelmed by it all.
Grit and determination become tools we use to keep our precious lives in repair for the return of the light. Though I honestly wonder now if that day will ever come. If it does not, then developing that grit is even more important than ever.
Where do we look for guides on how to work while in the darkness and keep our faces turned to the light? Stories are always there for us. Their characters show us how to face down the challenges before us, push beyond what we think we can do, and triumph.
My personal favorite is Aerin from “The Hero and the Crown” by Robin McKinley, who was never a favorite, an unwanted, untrusted girl who, defying her role and everyone’s desire that she hide herself, rode off to face the deadly Maur. Overcoming what happened to her in the aftermath required nothing short of a spectacular force of will (and an amazing horse).
But it is not just to the obvious warrior we can look for this kind of strength. Many characters wield a softer strength that is long lasting as well.
An old favorite Molly Grue comes to mind, from “The Last Unicorn”. She knows beauty and innocence and magic when she sees it and despite being none of these things, by her own admission, still she defends it with all of the tools at her disposal.
There are so many others of course. Meg from “A Wrinkle in Time”, Hermione Granger, Princess Leia, pretty much any character Tamora Pierce has ever written.
You may note a pattern here. All of these characters live in a particular type of book, and I don’t mean fantasy. They’re all now considered Young Adult (thereabouts) and that says something about what we’ve felt, for decades, is important for young people to learn:
The challenges we face are hard, they will wear you down, they will leech darkness into the world if we let them. Yet, we must engage with them, our friends alongside us whenever possible, and when we keep our hearts open and full of love, they can be overcome.
These challenges are in the micro and the macro, the world events and the daily grind. I’m right here beside you, holding my own head up as best I can. The stories in these pages are full of characters facing their own struggles, some of it world changing, some of it just getting through the day. As you read them, see what you can learn from their successes and failures. See if you can find a way to your own inner grit and determination.