100 Posts on Disability, Caregiving, and Courage (and Why We Fear Public Speaking More than Death)

I stare down at the small pile before me: an outline of my talk (8 pages long), 2 books to read from, and 1 cough drop, just in case things get desperate. This is it, I think. There’s no going back now. I’m standing in front of a small audience at St. Francis of Assisi church, about to give a talk entitled, “Not A Burden, but a Privilege:Β  Ministry Alongside People with Special Needs.” And boy oh boy, am I nervous.

I try not to think about the camera filming me, or the raw ache in my throat that had begun just hours before (which, as it turned out, signaled the start of a wicked cold). Instead, I look at the people seated in the audience. Their faces are expectant, and the few familiar ones smile at me. I take a deep breath and start to speak.

At first, I battle the sinking feeling that I’m failing, that I have nothing to say, that I’m making a fool of myself. Whenever I speak in public, this doubt is always with me. It’s with me whenever I put my heart on the line, whenever I share the stories that matter most to me. (It’s with me now, in a milder form, writing this post.)

And it makes sense; if there is a God of love, a power from which creativity and healing come, there is also a force (both without and within), that resists this power. Resistance is real, and if you feel a sickening sense of self-doubt, it probably means that you’re trying to do something important, something that will make a difference in the life of another person.

Resistance hates it when you take courage, when you do things that help you to grow and change and become the person you were meant to be. It wants you to stay as you are, to stay afraid. And so it will lie to you, very convincingly, telling you that you have nothing to offer, that nobody wants what you have to give.

And so it is with me as I begin to speak, and I know that the only way out is through. I cling to the knowledge that the fear will pass, that it doesn’t define me … and moreover, that it can’t stop me unless I let it. (And, for all my innate shyness, I am very stubborn.)

***

At the start of my talk, I rely on my outline, but soon I’m able to speak extemporaneously. First, I talk about Willie, how being his sister informs everything I know about inclusion. I tell the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, how Willie gave me a window into his mind and heart by casting me as Snow White. Next comes the reality of his behavioral challenges, the struggles we never would have chosen. Tears come to my eyes as I tell them about my brother with autism, my greatest teacher in the art of acceptance.

Photo credit: Brian Taylor Photography

From there I speak about L’Arche, and how the people there have taught me more about God and true faith than anyone else. I tell the story of the time my friend Pedro* and I went to church together, and how, in the midst of the isolation we felt, a woman we didn’t know brought God near to us. I talk about my friend Miguel*, and how his peaceful presence has given me respite. I mention my friend Katy* and how she took care of me when I was sick while on routine, stroking my hair and offering comfort. I share the lessons that my friend Gene taught me in his life and in his death: how to be present, how to hold on and when to let go.

Unscripted, I mention the fact that I’d applied (and been accepted with a full scholarship) to Princeton Seminary. I tell them that I decided not to go, in part because I was afraid that, after L’Arche, any seminary would be something of a letdown. The room fills with laughter, and I am shocked at my own subversive truth, but it feels so good to tell it like it is.

At some point, the audience starts feeling like a group of kindred spirits. Their eyes soften; some wipe away tears. The ache in my throat disappears, albeit temporarily. Time moves differently — when I glance up at the clock, I’m sure it must have frozen because really, how can I have been speaking for over an hour?

And with that, I realize: this talk is the 100th post. I’m living it. This speech is the culmination of a year and a half’s worth of love and writing. I’m not unprepared after all.

***

After the delight of signing copies of Love’s Subversive Stance and meeting the members of the audience, I step into the restroom for a moment alone. As I’m washing my hands, I glance up at the mirror. Something in my reflection is different – what?

Maybe it’s just the dim light, but I think: I look … more mature. I look more like my mother. I look more like the woman whose courage inspires me every day. I look more like myself, the woman I want to be.

And at the end of the day, at the end of 100 posts … what more could I ask for?

***

How have you faced down resistance in your life? Tell me in the comments!

Thank you for your sharings and your readership; you have made 100 posts possible.

Also: A Wish Come Clear will be taking a 2 week hiatus.

I’ll return with a new post on Monday, June 4th, 2012 (my birthday).

If this post spoke to you, please share it with those you love.

***

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*Names have been changed.

26 thoughts on “100 Posts on Disability, Caregiving, and Courage (and Why We Fear Public Speaking More than Death)

  1. Oh my – I have the chills. How beautiful! You have so come into your self; your truest, most authentic being. And how wonderful that must feel for you.

    As an aside, I can’t believe how much you resemble your mom. You two could be sisters!!

    If you speak anything like you write, which I’m sure you do, you must exude the most incredible state of being; such soothing warmth and inspiration, positiveness and enlightenment, spirituality and a rare ability to tap into the deepest part of the human soul. What a gift you give out to all who have the privilege of hearing you and reading your words. I wish I could have heard you. If you’re ever in the New York area, please let me know. In the meantime, I derive much deep pleasure from reading your beautiful writing.

    • What a wonderful affirmation, Harriet – thank you. It was, indeed, an amazing evening. (Any evening that can make you forget you’re sick is a miraculous one!) And yes, I will definitely let you know r.e. future travels to NYC area. I’d love to meet you. πŸ™‚

  2. Donna says:

    Thank you, Caroline! I do like the reference to resistance – one should look at it more as an affirmation than a deterrent.
    So thankful for the beautiful woman you are…congratulations on your 100th post and for stepping out in courage.
    love you!

  3. Metod says:

    Oh Caroline…you are so brave. Wild horses would not drag me up on any stage πŸ™‚
    I’m so happy that I’m witnessing your 100th post. What a remarkable achievement! Your blog has a special place in my heart because there is this indescribable goodness radiating from your writing. After reading your posts I feel like doing something good for others.

    So for this special occasion, I’d like to thank you for your beautiful stories, putting your heart on line for us, for giving the voice to those who can’t speak, for being courageous and stubborn in a way…in beating up that resistance!

    many blessings

  4. Paul says:

    Caroline,

    It was an inspiring evening and a privilege to share in the living of your 100th post.

    I was happy we could share dinner before and conversation after on the ride back to DC. Following your talk, folks really wanted the conversation to continue. Lots of connections appear to have been made. Our work really is to sow.

    Your 100th post resonates deeply with me. In particular:
    “Resistance is real, and if you feel a sickening sense of self-doubt, it probably means that you’re trying to do something important, something that will make a difference in the life of another person.”

    That “sickening sense” was gnawing at me this past weekend.

    Your words have been most helpful… “you’re trying to do something important, something that will make a difference in the life of another person.”

    Folks at St Francis of Assisi are looking forward to welcoming your return visit. Perhaps for your 200th post?

    Be well.
    In gratitude,
    Paul

    • 200th post, here we come! I love it. Thank you, Paul, for coordinating the evening and bringing such a great group together. And I will look forward to hearing what seeds are sown from/after your experience of resistance.

  5. Tam says:

    I am also so proud of you…with tears in my eyes, as usual when I read your posts. Love you!

  6. Many congratulations on a successful talk and your 100th post! A room full of kindred spirits is a lovely visual. Wishing you all the best for the next 100 posts… and beyond. πŸ™‚

  7. Susannah says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this post Cari – it really spoke to me where i am right now. πŸ™‚ You truly have a gift of expression through words my dear friend!

    Also, big congrats on the 100th post – i’m sooo excited for you!!! <3

  8. Sweet friend, I have finally found a quiet moment to write the congratulations I’ve been meaning to since I read this beautiful post! Though I’m so sad I wasn’t able to be there with you, I was certainly there in prayer and feel like I was there in person after reading your words.

    You have long inspired me with your bravery, especially in how openly you share of yourself and how deeply you love others – at L’Arche, in your family, and in our friendship. Thank you for being brave, and for sharing yourself through the last 100 posts and giving this talk. I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned and am yet to learn from you. How valuable is the work you are doing to help others see the beauty in those we love with disabilities!

    I love you and am so proud of you.

    • You’re going to make me cry first thing in the morning! Thank you so much, dear friend. I appreciate you taking the time to comment – especially with such a fiesty fella in your care. πŸ™‚ Your friendship has been a constant source of encouragement, and your bravery — especially throughout the last year — amazes me.
      I love you too.

  9. Tiffany Lekas says:

    I love that picture of you and your mom. I also love that last paragraph you wrote. As we spoke about last week. You definitely look more like your mother…a sign of the future I think.

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