It doesn’t take much for me to celebrate the script of the human spirit fighting against all odds, but very soon after I experience something more disturbing that makes me resent outrageously inspirational people. I haven’t quite worked out if that makes me a bad person or not. Hold your judgment for now.
I think it is the tendency to ‘measure up’ against ‘the Jones’s’. In my case it is the Jones’s with special needs kids who are model parents. Despite the odds they climb Mount Everest strapped together with an octopus strap sharing only one bag of 2-minute noodles between them only to be saved by a Saint Bernard dog with a bottle of whisky hanging from its neck – NEWSWORTHY! I know, I know… I should be throwing my arms in the air like I just don’t care – but I don’t feel like it.
It’s because I keep checking myself against others to see if I am OK – I think that is pretty natural. After all, life didn’t come with a manual to address complicated problems. I just want to feel like I matter and I am doing a good job. What if I never have the Mount Everest moment? My achievement might be limited to simply living life and sharing as much joy as possible. Why would anyone relate success to the benign struggle?
Maybe I am looking in all the wrong places for inspiration? Have you heard the term ‘inspiration porn’? It is a little crass but those who use it are trying to get a point across. My overwhelmed reaction to amazing people is because they inadvertently highlight the divide between where I am, and where they are. I’ll never measure up, so it isn’t inspiring to me at all. It is like running a marathon and you are within an inch of your life when a superstar runner laps me yelling out on the way past, “come on, you only have to make up for the lap and then keep up with me! And… you really should be wearing lycra.” What I need is a runner who can gently coach me and is in a close enough proximity where I can hear their voice. It is more helpful if they are just in front, not a million miles ahead. If they are close enough they are able to describe the next few steps in real time. I don’t need to know what the peak of Mount Everest looks like, just the next step.
So if we don’t get our stimulus from inspiration porn, where do we get it? I think it is from those around who are within easy reach. It doesn’t have to be a Swiss body builder who grows organic spinach and does life without a carbon footprint. It certainly shouldn’t be from people who make a living from gallivanting the globe in their Learjet and paid to attend parties.
We need someone close that we can relate to, who expresses their humanity honestly and isn’t perfect. Worthwhile inspiration comes from someone who understands you and will guide you to the next step… not the 50th. They of course won’t write any books because it isn’t sensational enough, but their advice will be priceless.
There are plenty of other places you could look for inspiration, you might have a different window to look through to me, but lately I have been noticing the extraordinary life of the ordinary mother. Not by choice, it just so happens that several women close to me have shown their fortitude in abundance. It hasn’t been on the big screen; in fact it has been in silence when no one is looking. They haven’t been doing laps around the marathon track in view of everyone; they don’t even know where the finish line is – all they know is they have to keep walking. Why would I look to mothers? Because they are the embodiment of tenacity and they do it often without praise or recognition.
Take my sister for example. She is in her 40’s, two precious children, and as I write this her husband has only a few weeks to live. A cancer straight from the depths of hell imprisons him. My sister can only do hour by hour but somehow she keeps her children at school, pays the bills, organises medications, argues with road construction out the front of her house at 5am all while she gently explains to her children daily that daddy will only be on this earth for a while longer. She acts as a competent carer, mother, lover and does it only one step ahead of insanity. You can imagine the layers of inspiration she exudes. A blog certainly wouldn’t do her journey any justice. No, she won’t end up on Current Affair but she will imprint core values to her children despite the horrendous mountain climb. No one has heard of the mountain she is climbing, it’s not even on a map. It’s not Mount Everest; it is Mount Normal so it won’t be newsworthy unlike Kim Kardashian’s news report that she has changed her hairstyle.
My own mother – She has decided with her awesome husband that it is important to live off the grid and is building what will effectively be an underground home that is fully self-contained. Eventually her carbon footprint will be zero. At the same time she takes care of my sisters children and manages with incredible expertise the outpouring of grief and confusion our family is feeling. She will drive 900kms at the drop of a hat to help in some small way. Not newsworthy, but certainly inspirational.
Then there is my wife. Oh God, how did I manage to marry this woman? Oh yeah, she drives me flippin’ crazy at times but when she helps my daughter work through complex relational problems, I count my blessings. When we receive terrible news from doctors about my special needs daughter she absorbs, cries, processes and remarkably takes the step in front of her when the next day arrives. She doesn’t give up. No she doesn’t do the remarkable – she just doesn’t give up. I know those around her in similar situations can relate because she is only one step ahead and when she isn’t, she knows how to reach out to those friends and ask for help. The outcome? A relatively normal life that is hardly normal. Not everyone is going to be an example of perfection and we shouldn’t be looking for that because an expectation of perfection is corrupt; it is a mirage full of dust.
I won’t look two kilometers ahead anymore for inspiration. Truly, it just doesn’t help. But I will look to the side or even behind for people who will inspire me in a way that actually helps. They are the real people who I can relate to. They don’t force me to measure up. They simply say, “You are just like me, come on, let’s walk together.” The agreement is simple – when I fall, they pick me up. When they fall, I’ll pick them up. That inspiration has value.
Trouble is this kind of inspiration won’t have a YouTube channel with three million hits. You will have to search for these people, it will take effort because they won’t present themselves with flashing lights and illuminate signs. It will be someone in the background, trudging with tenacity and changing our earth one step at a time.