“It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.”
~ J. K. Rowling
Pushing against the heat filling the noon air, I hurried up the hill, excited to see the monument. Arriving at the massive structure, I read and re-read the names on the stone. Jennie was born on February 1, 1841, and died on September 8, 1922. Before her birth, both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War had occurred, leaving women widowed to raise children alone, even while working jobs previously held by men. I know from my research that during Jennie’s life, she stood up in the Equal Suffrage Society to declare that if women were having to do the work of men, they should be given the opportunity to vote. Standing up to her enemies and, more importantly, to her friends, Jennie lived with courage long before Rowling penned her words. Revisiting her life story, I have wondered if my courage is as great.
Thinking of times in my life when I’ve stood up to friends or enemies, I don’t think of many until I became jolted by events in my life as an adult. In fact, I wanted to have no enemies, so I tried to disagree little – maybe it’s a southern thing to try to be agreeable. When I thought my brother might die from a high fever, I sacrificed every coin in my bank to encourage him to be ok (I was probably 5), and when the local bike path was overgrown with weeds, I spoke to the newspaper about it even though I had mayonnaise in my hair (I was a teenager). That was the most courage I had shown until I tired of seeing others being mistreated or shortchanged in everyday life – children in the schools my kids attended, adults at the shelter where I volunteered, and animals who needed a helping hand (my mother used to swear they seemed to find me). I developed more courage to risk what others thought of me, and I think that is probably what happened with Jennie.
When you look at yourself, do you see someone with courage or just someone who is loud and obnoxious? I believe there is a difference. I want to be the kind of person who does what I know must be right even in the face of adversity. I want the insightfulness in my courage that Winston Churchill had when he refused to make a deal with Hitler and led Britain through that difficult time. I want the grace in my courage that the Dalai Lama showed in his non-violent protests. I want the wisdom in my courage of Galileo who studied and challenged with what he found was the truth. I do not want loud, self-centered courage because that is not courage at all, simply egotism.
Being involved in politics on any level really never interested me, but the thrill of getting to vote has been something I have treasured since the day I turned 18. Voting was something I had seen my mother do, standing with her inside the curtained area while she clicked her selections and then my big moment — pulling the red lever. Yes, voting was exciting! (Maybe we need to bring back the fun of voting.) Regardless of the level of thrill, I have become more interested and excited about participating in our political system today, and I suppose at times I have had to stand up not only to my enemies but also to my friends and even my family. It doesn’t feel like it’s as awesome a thing as the stories I’ve read of courageous historical figures, but because I studied and did not rush, I feel certain in my stands that I have taken.
Jennie was born Jane Katherine and was a larger than life kind of woman, judging from photos I’ve seen and the descriptions I’ve read. She was the president of the Bohemian Scribblers, a staunch advocate of education, and a fighter for the suffrage movement in the 1900’s. She was 79 years old and still standing when women finally received the right to vote, as Tennessee became state number 36 to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Jennie was known in her family as Bonnie, and I think it is a lovely name. It reminds me of a strong woman who loved life, loved people, and appeared to be the woman she wanted to be — that takes a lot of courage in my book.
This week, may you and I find the insightfulness, grace, and wisdom to be the men and women we want to be and stand for the people who are unable to stand for themselves at the moment.