Tag Archives: Roller Derby

the bruise that never heals.

21 Feb

a sermon, delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY
on February 7, 2016

 

Derby City Roller Girls

Bruises are a part of roller derby. A celebrated part. So much so that it’s not uncommon for players to take pictures of their biggest, most colorful, most interestingly shaped bruises and post them online for the admiration of other players (really – look it up!). Bruises on your shins from where another player’s skate smashed into you. Wheel-shaped bruises on your thigh where you sat down on a pair of skates. Bruises on your hips and shoulders where you were hit or blocked by players on the opposing side. These are bruises that go deep into your tissue, and come out in amazing blues, purples, and blacks that eventually fade to greens, browns and yellows.

It is not uncommon to find bruises on top of bruises, especially on a skater’s hips or upper thighs, which get the most abuse in the game. A few of my teammates even had bruises that never went away – they would get worse and worse, becoming super-sensitive, where even just getting dressed hurt because the area had been mangled – not by one big hit, but by the constant barrage of small hits in the same place, over and over. What was strangest is that sometimes, these most sensitive bruises were invisible, lacking the loud color of bruises that would heal – as if the skin itself has resigned itself to injury.

For one of my teammates, this invisible bruise that never went away eventually hardened into a lump. She ignored it for a while, thinking it was just forming a protective barrier that would eventually heal, but when it didn’t go away even after she stopped playing, she got it checked out. It turned out to be cancer. A cancer caused by repeated minor trauma.

When I first heard about the experience of microaggressions, I immediately related them to bruises in roller derby. Derald Wing Sue, who has studied microaggressions for a decade, defines them as:

“the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

A person from any marginalized group can be the target of microaggression from someone from a dominant perspective: people of color experience them from white people, women experience them from men, people who are transgender experience them from cisgender people, people who are differently abled experience them from the able-bodied. You can experience them based on your sexual orientation, your religion, your social class, and more. What is common to all microaggressions is that they contain a hidden message that is experienced as invalidating, dehumanizing, and demeaning.

Some examples:

  • When a white woman clutches her purse as a Black or Latino man approaches or passes her, the hidden message being sent is that the Black or Latino man, and others like him, are criminals.
  • When an Asian American, born and raised in the United States, is complimented for speaking “good English”, the hidden message is: You are not a true American. You are a perpetual foreigner in your own country.
  • When a female physician wearing a stethoscope is mistaken as a nurse, the hidden message is that women should occupy nurturing and not decision-making roles, or that women are less capable than men.
  • When a person uses the term “gay” to describe something they didn’t like, the hidden message is that being gay is associated with negative and undesirable characteristics.
  • Or when the outfit worn by a TV reality-show mom is described as “classless and trashy” the hidden message is that lower-class people are tasteless and unsophisticated.

These are all examples of microaggressions. And there are many, many more. What they have in common is that they say to someone “You do not belong.” And because these are small, everyday things, the effect of their hidden messages is one that builds up over time. Someone who regularly experiences microaggressions becomes more and more aware of them. The bruise gets bigger and bigger, and more sensitive, until even the slightest touch is experienced as excrutiatingly painful. Sue points out that “These everyday occurrences may on the surface appear quite harmless, trivial, or be described as ‘small slights,’ but research indicates they have a powerful impact upon the psychological well-being of marginalized groups and affect their standard of living by creating inequities in health care, education, and employment.”

Now, I suspect that we would all like to believe that we are too enlightened to engage in this type of harmful behavior. But we do, often without realizing it. Sue shares that it is those of us who are well-intentioned who actually engage in the most harmful of microaggressions. Because of course, those who are not well-intentioned are often fin being experienced as racist, or misogynistic, or homophobic.

When experiencing a microaggression from someone who is well intentioned, the target person is placed into what Sue calls a “’damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ situation. That is, if the person does nothing, [they] may suffer from a sense of low self-esteem, a feeling of not being true to the self, and a loss of self-integrity. Yet, to confront the perpetrator or to raise the issue may result in negative consequences.” Negative consequences like further microaggressions.

Because what often happens when a person confronts the perpetrator of a microaggression is that the perpetrator tries to explain it away, or encourage the target person to “let go” or “get over it.” This results in further microaggressions by giving the message that the target person is off base in their experience, and by indicating that the perpetrator’s intent is more important than the impact it had on the target person.

One can see how this builds up over time. Say I experience a microaggression from someone I care about or work with, I may not say anything. And then it happens again, and maybe again, sometimes from this same person, and maybe sometimes from others as well. And then, because it is weighing on me, finally, I do decide to share my experience. How will I feel if I take this risk, only to be told that it is nothing? Most likely I will feel even worse, more invisible and invalidated.

Personally, I experienced this as a woman in technology prior to entering the ministry. But in truth I got it even worse from other Unitarian Universalists when I had won a sermon award and was constantly introduced as the “young minister” even though I was rapidly approaching 40. Yes, I knew that perhaps I was young compared to the vast majority of people in the room, but if that is what I experienced at nearly 40, what do people who are just out seminary at the age of 25 experience, and how often do we dismiss or overlook “young” ministers? Because that is what it felt like – a dismissal. I got to the point that I would constantly be sharing my age with people to try to prove I wasn’t as young as they thought so that I wouldn’t be so easily dismissed. And they would often laugh it off. It was extremely frustrating.

Of course, this type of microaggression did not carry the threat of danger. It was belittling, and it hurt, but it wasn’t scary. This is not the case for many other people who experience these everyday slights, snubs, and insults.

So how did we, as people who want to respect one another in word and in deed, get to the point where it is our good intentions that have inadvertently allowed us to engage in behaviors that “oppress and engage in prejudicial actions that harm others?” Sue says that “The answer seems to reside in a dominant culture that values ways of being, thinking, and acting that reflects the reality of a primarily Eurocentric, masculine, and heterosexual worldview that is imposed upon racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities.” And because we are a part of our culture, not separate from it, we have picked up on these same traits. Sue points out that whether intentional or not, “oppressors…[feel that they] do not need to understand the thoughts, beliefs, or feelings of various marginalized groups to survive…therefore it is not surprising to find that those who are most empowered are least likely to have an accurate perception of reality.” Indeed, he says, it is this obliviousness that “allows people to misperceive themselves as superior and other groups as inferior; it allows oppressors to live in a false reality.” A reality that we seldom interrogate as rigorously as we should.

It is clear from the the data that our good intentions often contribute to the experience of microaggressions for those who are in a minority. And the effects are far reaching. Sue has found that the “cumulative nature and continued day-in and day-out experience [of being the target of microaggressions] have been found to…contribute to a hostile and invalidating campus and work climate, devalue social group identities, lower work productivity and educational learning, perpetuate stereotype threat, create physical health problems, and assail mental health by creating emotional turmoil, low self-esteem, and psychological energy depletion.” Those who experience microaggressions suffer biologically, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.

This is where the metaphor of derby bruises and microaggressions breaks down, however. Unlike in derby, where the wheel or the floor suffer no damage when causing a bruise, it is not only the targets of microagression who are hurt in the process. The perpetrators are hurt as well. Sue explains that:

“None of us…would consciously and willingly consent to [perpetrating] such heinous actions. In order to assure the continuance of the oppressor-oppressed relationship, and to keep such injustices hidden…it is desirable to perpetuate a ‘culture of silence’ among oppressed groups as well as perpetrators. When the oppressed are not allowed to express their thoughts and outrage, when their concerns are minimized, and when they are punished for expressing ideas at odds with the dominant group, their voices are effectively silenced. [And] This allows perpetrators to hold on to a belief that they are good, moral, and decent human beings.”

Wherever we intersect with the dominant culture, whether it is because we are white, or male, or cisgender, or heterosexual, etc., we silence the oppressed that are not part of that dominant culture, and this allows us to maintain the illusion that we are good, moral, decent, and even superior whether we consciously believe it to be so or not. And there are costs to us when we perpetrate this type of oppression: cognitive costs, emotional costs, behavioral costs and spiritual costs.

The cognitive costs are demonstrated in the form of cognitive distortion and a false sense of reality. When we become aware of our biases, we often experience “debilitating emotional turmoil” and so we begin to deny our behaviors or rationalize them away. We try to “engage in denial and live a false reality that allows [us] to function in good conscious.”

Emotionally, Sue points out that “the harm, damage, and acts of cruelty visited upon marginalized groups can only continue if the person’s humanity is diminished.” This means that “oppressors lose sensitivity to those that are hurt; they become hard, cold and unfeeling to the plight of the oppressed; and they turn off their compassion and empathy for others. To continue being oblivious to one’s own complicity in such acts means objectifying and dehumanizing [marginalized] people.”

As perpetrators, we may also experience guilt – guilt for being in a dominant group and the realization that we are partially responsible for the pain of others. This guilt can cause us to be defensive, and we may try to deny or diminish the experiences of marginalized people when they share their experiences with us, so that we might avoid further awareness and guilt.

As we begin to feel fear and guilt, we may choose to avoid marginalized people or people who are different from us. We don’t want to continue to cause harm and so we choose to stay away. These are the behavioral costs. We may not go somewhere for fear of what we might do or say that harms others, intentionally or inadvertently. When we avoid such situations, growth becomes difficult to impossible, and as Sue indicates, it “deprives oppressors the richness of possible friendships and an expansion of educational experiences that open up life horizons and possibilities.”

Finally, there are spiritual costs as well. When we oppress, whether intentionally or not, we lose our own humanity for the sake of power, wealth and status. This causes us to lose our spiritual connection with others as we try to dehumanize them. Sue writes that “To allow the continued degradation, harm, and cruelty to the oppressed means diminishing one’s humanity, and lessening compassion toward others. People who oppress must, at some level, become callous, cold, hard, and unfeeling toward the plight of the oppressed.”

I know this is not how I want to live, and I would wager that you don’t either. So what can we do about it? How can we change, and become part of the solution instead of part of the problem? Sue13 indicates that there are seven things that we can work towards that will help create conditions that make change possible. He says that each of these are required – none of them are sufficient on their own:

First, and foremost we must have regular, prolonged “contact with people who differ from us in race, culture, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.” We can seek out friendships with those who are different. This doesn’t mean choosing someone as a friend just because they are different, but finding someone with whom we can bond, one of whose characteristics is that they are different in some key way.

Second, we can work together “a cooperative rather than a competitive environment” understanding that when we combine our resources rather than compete for them, there is plenty for everyone.

Third, we can “share mutual goals as opposed to individual ones.” This is a shift in thinking from what I need to what WE need.

Fourth, it is important that learn “accurate information rather than stereotypes or misinformation” – this means questioning, interrogating, things that are presented as true even though they aren’t. For instance, the majority of people who receive food stamps are white, but if you watch the media you will often see a black person pictured when there is a story on the subject. We need to confront such stereotypes and misinformation in search for accurate information.

Fifth, we can work towards “sharing an equal status relationship with other groups instead of an unequal or imbalanced one.” Marginalized people are just that – shoved to the margins, where there is not much strength or power. I am reminded of a school that showcases boys sports, even though the girls teams are winning championships. The microaggressions that the girls experience when constantly seeing the boys teams on the front page of the paper or website can be addressed when leadership understands how this perpetuates inequality and they can work forwards a more equal, balanced status.

Which leads to the sixth characteristic for promoting change, we can choose leadership that is supportive of group harmony and group welfare. At the ballot box, but also in other areas of our lives, we can demand and support leadership that understands these mechanisms of power.

And finally, we can work on feeling a sense of unity, a sense of interconnectedness with all humanity. Even, especially, with those who might seem so different from us.

For more information on what these all look like, I recommend reading Sue’s book “Microaggressions in Everyday Life” or one of the many internet articles he has authored.

In roller derby, the bruise that builds up over time can become cancerous, eating away at the victim and causing them harm. Microagressions are like these derby bruises, building up, causing a person harm, impacting their physical, emotional and spiritual health over time. But unlike in derby, the perpetrators of microagressions also suffer harm, cognitively, behaviorally, emotionally and spiritually.

If we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and

If we believe in the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Then we must put in the effort to face our own failings. It means learning about how we may cause harm to people, even unintentionally, and then working to make it right. It means using techniques such as “oops” and “ouch” when we have erred. It means recognizing that the impact of our words on others matters more than our intent. It means listening to the stories of others with humility and an open mind and heart. This requires constant effort, and does not come easy. And with so much other work of this nature, we will break each others hearts and fail over and over again. But, if we let it, this is what will allow us to grow. May we choose to face the difficult truth that we are each sometimes unwitting perpetrators that cause pain to another, and may humility, love, and understanding allow us to be a part of the healing process whenever possible. Blessed be.


FYI, My teammate with cancer has since recovered.

Footnotes removed, but quotes are from the following sources:

Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions and Marginality: Manifestation, Dynamics, and Impact. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2010.

Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions: More than Just Race, Psychology Today, November 17, 2010.

Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2010.

all in it together.

30 Oct

Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY
October 18. 2015

Listen:

RollerDerbyI used to play competitive roller derby. And I’ve found it to be a useful lens through which to examine sociological, psychological and even theological concepts. But in order to understand it as a metaphor, I need to give you a bit of background on how the game is played.

Each team puts 5 skaters on the track at a time, for a period of play called a jam. A jam can’t last more than 2 minutes, so there are a lot of them during the game. Of those 5 skaters that each team puts out, one is called the jammer, and she is the offensive skater – the one who scores points. The other four are the defensive players, and they are called blockers. In short, the jammer earns a point for every blocker from the opposing team that she passes.

So jammers are trying to get past the blockers to score points.

Blockers are trying to both prevent the opposing jammer from passing them, as well as making holes for their jammer to get through.

That is the gist of it.

I played both positions, but I really loved playing the jammer – mostly because she gets to skate really, really fast.

But I had a problem as a jammer – one that is pretty common to those of us in the position: I paid almost no attention to what my blockers were doing. I was a lone wolf, trying to get through the pack of skaters on my own so that I could score points.

It wasn’t long before I began to feel an almost overwhelming sense of responsibility. It was my job to score the points. The pressure started to get to me. The nervous butterflies that I would get at the beginning of each game got worse and worse, until I was almost having an anxiety attack. At that point, I decided to quit jamming and stick with blocking.

A teammate, a fellow jammer who had been doing it for a lot longer than me, sat me down to talk. She explained to me that when a jammer feels like she is a lone wolf, that the burden of responsibility for the game falls to her and her alone, then she is not acting like a team player. This experienced player told me that she had been in a similar situation, and she had learned that she needed to trust her teammates: both the blockers on the track with her and the other jammers on the team when they got on the track for a jam. She said that she had to learn that the responsibility was not all on her.

With this shift in understanding, I was able to return to jamming – and I became a better jammer. Because we are better together. The lone wolf jammer needs to develop trust in her teammates.

So what does all this mean for those of us gathered here? As individuals, and as a faith tradition, many of us struggle with liberal guilt. We feel like it is all on us, and only us, to create justice in the world, to save the planet, to “insert your cause here”. We have a deep sense of social responsibility, one that, at times, becomes a burden of responsibility not unlike that experienced by the jammer.

This burden of responsibility comes, in part, from a misinterpretation in our theology. We can find this misinterpretation when we look at the 5 smooth stones from James Luther Adams. Let me explain.

James Luther Adams was a Unitarian minister, social activist, scholar, theologian, author, and divinity school professor for more than forty years. “Adams was the most influential theologian among American Unitarian Universalists of the 20th century.” According to Adams, there are five smooth stones that are hallmarks of religious liberalism. They are:

1. Revelation and truth are not closed, but constantly being revealed. We are always learning new truths.

2. All relations between people ought ideally to rest on mutual, free consent and not coercion. We choose to enter into relationship with one another – it is not forced.

3. Liberal religion affirms the moral obligation to direct one’s effort toward the establishment of a just and loving community. It is our responsibility to work for justice.

4. Good must be consciously given form and power within history. That good things don’t just happen, people make them happen.

And finally,
5. The resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism. There is hope!

Let’s go back to the third and fourth ones for a minute. These are the ones that say that it is our responsibility to work for justice, and that good things don’t just happen, people make them happen. When we hear these two together, we may mistakenly get the idea that it is ALL up to US to make these good things happen – that without our hands, without my hands, without your hands actively working all the time to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice, it won’t bend and we won’t get there. It is UP TO US!

This can lead to a paralyzing sense of responsibility, both in our individual lives and as a faith tradition. There have been times when I have stood for 10 minutes in front of the canned tomatoes at the grocery store, trying to figure out whether I should buy the organic ones, or the low-salt ones, or the ones grown in the United States, or maybe I shouldn’t buy the canned tomatoes but the jarred ones instead because then I can reuse the glass jar, or maybe what I should do is by the fresh ones and cut them myself, but do I buy the local hydroponically grown ones, or…

It can be paralyzing.

And not only paralyzing, it can mean we are afraid to take risks, because so much is on our shoulders that we DARE NOT STUMBLE.

So we end up stuck in place, not moving, afraid to go forward. Crippled by our sense of responsibility.

Adams, or JLA as he is most often called, was a huge proponent of voluntary associations. He never would have said that hope rested on only one small group of people – he was talking about all liberal religionists, not just Unitarians. JLA was famous for recasting Jesus’ saying, “By their fruits you shall know them,” into “By their groups you shall know them.” He did this to “emphasize that our ethics are revealed not in our intentions or even in our individual actions but in the relationships and institutions we commit ourselves to.”

So it is not our individual or collective actions that will save us, but our relationships. And so, interestingly enough, the solution for our overwhelming sense of responsibility to save the world and everyone in it is exactly the same as the solution for lone wolf jammers in roller derby: Trust. Trust that we are all in it together.

We don’t have to do this work alone, and it does not rest entirely on our shoulders. Far from it!

Instead, we can be part of a larger team of folks working to love the hell out of the world, working to bring about the beloved community, working to bring heaven to earth. There are many different ways of expressing it – and we do say we need not think alike to love alike, right? We can partner with folks who may be compatible on one issue but very different than us on another.

We are living this reality right now at First U by having joined CLOUT – Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together. We are the first non-Christian entity to join them, but I don’t think we will be the last. We are partnering in areas we agree on: access to jobs & transportation, the destructive nature of payday lending, and affordable housing. When we gather for meetings, I hold an awareness that several of the congregations we are partnering with do not believe that I should be a minister because I am a woman. And some have taken active stances against same-sex marriage. But we join together to work on the issues upon which we agree because we are stronger together.

And then, we partner with the local LGBT Fairness organizations to work on issues with them. And we partner with the local grassroots organization working to end mountaintop removal. We are constantly looking for organizations to partner with, not so that we can lead but so that we can be faithful allies, standing in solidarity. It not only helps these important organizations, it helps us!

To build trust, we must find partners we can be in relationship with so that we know we are not in it alone. Once we have done that, we will find we have more energy free’d up to take risks, to step into the discomfort, knowing that even if we fail, our partners will be there working towards similar goals. Having partners frees us from the paralyzation we feel when we think we are carrying the burden alone, that it is all on our shoulders.

I experienced this first-hand at General Assembly a few months ago. After a very difficult floor session debating the wording for a Black Lives Matter Action of Immediate Witness, there was a Black Lives Matter rally held outside the convention center. Rev. Sekou, a noted Ferguson, Missouri, activist, called on those of us gathered, mostly white, to “be more than allies, but to be freedom fighters.” He gave us directions for how we were going to conduct a die-in – that most people would form a circle around a nearby intersection, blocking traffic. In the center, a smaller group would lay down and perform a die-in, lying on the ground for 4 minutes – one minute for each hour that Michael Brown’s body lay on the road in Ferguson.

I knew I wanted to participate in the die-in, that I wanted to be a part of what I felt was an important “walk the talk” action with my fellow co-religionists. But I was scared. I turned to my colleague, the Rev. Jan Taddeo, minister at our congregation in Lawerenceville, Georgia. “I want to do this, but I am afraid!” I said. “Me too” she said. And so we clasped hands, and went and lay down in the road for 4 very long minutes. We held hand the whole time. I could not have done it without her.

We are better, stronger together. And we are able to take risks, do things, that we would normally not be able to do.

Whether it is the obligation the jammer feels to score as many points as possible, or the feeling that if we don’t save the world, no one will…No matter where the overwhelming sense of responsibility comes from, when we find trusted others with whom we can partner, we are able to recover from our belief that it is all on us.

And as JLA’s fifth smooth stone tells us, the resources available justify an attitude of ultimate optimism. There is hope. May we remember that we are not alone, but instead are in it together.

effort & inertia.

3 Sep

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

Effort & Inertia: Stinky Pads

It’s midway through practice and we are doing a hitting drill with full contact. It’s my turn, and as I chase after my teammate, I am breathing heavy and envisioning where I will catch up to her and how I will slide my hips in front of her and then sheriff her with my shoulder.

Midway around the track, I catch her and as I go to slide in front of her, the top of our arms touch. Her skin is so slick that my arm slides in front of her fast enough to throw off my balance. Before I know it, I am face down on the floor. My teammate has lept over me gracefully.

I get back up, and go stand back in line to try again. As I look at my teammate, I see she is covered in sweat. There are no dry spots on her shirt. Indeed, if she stands in one place too long, a puddle will form.

Roller derby makes you sweat, some more than others. Many sports make you sweat, of course, but many sports don’t have you wearing as much protective gear as roller derby does. Sweat gets into our helmets, our elbow pads, our wrist guards, our kneepads, and of course our skates themselves. At the end of practice, we throw all our sweaty gear into our bags and into our cars. If we are lucky, they will have time to dry out before the next practice. Many of us aren’t so lucky. So in addition to being sweaty, we stink.

photo

Oh, how we stink. Even after cleaning my pads and letting them air out, two years after I last strapped them on, I can still smell them when I walk into that part of the basement. Since our sense of smell is the one most tightly connected to our memories, it’s not uncommon for me to stand and nostalgically remember my roller derby days whenever I have to get something from the basement freezer.

Sweat. Stench. Signs of effort.

I have come a long, long way.

There was a time – just after college when I began working in the “real world” where I would actively avoid anything that made me sweat. I had lost that part of me that enjoyed getting dirty while playing in a creek, playing tackle football in a field. I avoided anything where I might get dirty, or, heaven forbid, that might make me smell.

All around me were pictures of what being a woman meant – nicely coiffed, clean, in a pressed shirt and impeccably accessorized. This is what I thought I was supposed to be now that I was “grown-up”. I abhorred anything that might require sunscreen, or bugspray, or ultra-heavy-duty-deoderant.

Thank goodness for roller derby, which allowed me to reclaim my love of getting dirty. Now, like a kid, I revel in it (sorry, honey!). These days, if I am participating in a physical activity and don’t sweat, I feel like I have not worked hard enough. I haven’t put in enough effort.

So you would think that, given how much I enjoy the effort that I put into practice, and how good I usually felt when it was over, that getting me to actually get in the car and go to practice would not be such a insanely difficult endeavor.

But it usually was.

Most days, I just wanted to stay at home. I was tired after a long day of working, I had barely had a chance to say hello to my kids, much less knowing I would be missing bedtime again. With a job that has a lot of evening meetings, there were some days I didn’t even go home first – I would spend 10 hours at the church and then go straight to practice.

Most days, inertia set in. And it became a battle with myself to get to practice, even as much as I loved it.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this process, now, so I know that I am not alone. For many of us, even if something is wonderful, fulfilling, exciting, challenging – all this good stuff – we still have a hard time getting off our butts and actually doing it.

This is one reason why new exercise routines fail, or new healthy-eating plans, or : Inertia.

Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest, or an object in motion to stay in motion. This fundamental principle of physics applies to the motion of objects, but the word itself actually comes from a Latin root that means idle or sluggish – words we usually use to describe human beings.

If we are going about our daily business, and then come home and plop on the couch, it is inertia that will want to keep us there for the next 4 hours. It is inertia that tells us that it is too hard, too difficult, too time-consuming to get out the equipment of our old hobby that we loved to do before we get derailed from doing it regularly a few months ago. Particular to my field, it is inertia that keeps someone from going to a religious service, even if they know they will love seeing their friends and worshipping with their community.

It is also inertia that can keep us going even when other resources have failed. It was actually easier for me to get practice on those nights I worked late, even though I entered practice pre-exhausted. It was easier because I had been in motion all day and just allowed it to carry me along. Whereas if I had gone home first and slowed down, it was harder to resume activity.

A friend of mine recently shared a quote with me, from Lucille Ball. She said “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” At first glance, I thought my friend meant “Ask a busy person, because obviously they can’t say no!” but the quote continues: “The more things you do, the more you can do.” Inertia works both ways – it is harder for us as human beings to change our state than it is to keep doing what we are doing.

So how does one get over the inertia that may prevent her from participating in something that will be fun, exciting, and fulfilling, and actively recalibrate her activity level? Marelisa Fábrega, author of How to Live Your Best Life – The Essential Guide For Creating and Achieving Your Life List, recommends the following in her blogpost entitled “Seven Ways to Overcome Inertia and Get Yourself Unstuck”:

1. Shock Yourself Into Action
One way to get the bump to move us from resting to activity is to shock ourselves into action. This may be by asking ourselves pointed questions, such as ones that might focus on the consequences of not engaging in an action. “What happens if I don’t make it to practice tonight?” I might ask myself. The answer: Not only will I feel worse for not going, and not only will I neglected to engage in a healthy, stress-reducing activity, but I also won’t be eligible to play in the next bout if I don’t earn these practice points!

2. Secure Short Term Wins
Sometimes, overcoming inertia is giving ourselves enough quick wins that we become energized, which can then help us get motivated in the longer-term. For getting out the door for practice, I would create short-term wins like “I am just going to pack up my gear and put it in the car” often followed by “I am just going to get dressed and put my contacts in” – with no requirement that this meant I would actually go to practice. Of course, by the time I had done all this, I was pretty much ready to go and so usually did.

3. Dangle a Carrot In Front of Yourself
Reward ourselves! Both long-term and short-term rewards come in handy when trying to overcome the inertia that keeps us idle. Short-term carrots for me almost always involved chocolate after practice. A longer term carrot might be qualifying for the roster for the next game.

4. Use a Stick
Fábrega points out that “not only do we have a tendency to move toward pleasure, we have an even stronger tendency to move away from pain.” So then how can we use this to overcome inertia? Denial is an effective technique – I have found the denial of chocolate to be quite effective. Another one she recommends is charging yourself money. “For example, you could ask a friend to charge you $5 for every day that you fail to take action toward the achievement of your goal.”

5. Fill Your Gas Tank
I think this one should probably really be number 1. How often can we not get started on something because we don’t have enough energy? This might mean taking a nap, getting to sleep earlier more regularly, or having a healthy snack. It might also mean going for a walk, light job, or doing some yoga – something that helps get our blood flowing.

6. Create a Clear Vision of What You’re Trying to Achieve
Visualization works wonders. We were often told in practice that, in order to master a skill, several times a day we should visualize ourselves mastering the skill. Combining this with some of the other tools can yield particularly powerful results when overcoming inertia: I would visualize eating that lovely piece of chocolate when I got home from practice. When my mouth started salivating, I was out the door.

7. Stage It
We can also remove physical obstacles that might prevent us from getting done what we are trying to get done. For instance, if I hate going into the basement to get my gear, I could set it up closer to the door that I will go out. I might make dinner in the crockpot that morning so that lack of something to make for dinner is not my excuse for not going to practice. Fábrega says “Set the stage for the action that you want to take.”

Sometimes, the rewards of putting in a good effort are not quite enough to overcome our inertia. But when we do overcome it, we can be extra proud. One sign of that effort in roller derby is how much our pads stink. Roller girls are secretly (and not so secretly) proud of them. Still, just to be safe, if a roller girl hands you something and says “Hey, smell this”…don’t.

book chapter.

19 Aug

A huge part of my sabbatical is working on a book that reflects on lessons and experiences I had in Roller Derby and applies them to psychological, sociological, and theological topics. Each chapter has two titles: the first one, in capital letters is the basic concept, followed by a phrase or inspiration from derby.

I won’t promise to post all the chapters, but I will post many of the first drafts. What do you want to know more about? What should I write less about? I welcome all constructive feedback, questions, curiosities.

Towards that end, here is the chapter I am calling…

RISK / Liv Fearless
I sat there in the car and I could not help but wonder what on earth I was doing. Even though my family was at church, it was one of my Sundays off. And there I sat, outside a roller rink, wondering if I would get out of the car and go in. Surely, I did not belong there. The other women who I saw go in were much younger, in better shape, and infinitely more hip than I had ever been in my life. So there I sat.

As the sun streamed down on the beautiful morning, I thought about what had gotten me to this parking lot in the first place. I was still new in town, having relocated my family nine months earlier so that I could take my first full-time settled ministry position. I wasn’t having a lot of success creating a community of friends around me – something that I was not only used to but that I craved. Ministry was lovely and wonderful and I was having an amazing time, but a part of me needed to just let loose every now and then. I was feeling wound up. I knew I needed to find some way to release this pent up energy, and soon.

We had previously watched the movie “Whip It!” and I had loved it. It was an interesting experience for me, because I realized that though I liked Bliss, the main character played by Ellen Page, I did not relate to her the way I would have even 10 years ago. Watching then, as a mother with 2 elementary school kids, with a career of my own, I could remember what it was like to flounder to find my own way in life. And yet now I was engaged in a different kind of finding my way, trying to prove myself in a new place and a new job. I related more to Kristen Wiig’s character Maggie Mayhem, a mother who was trying to juggle the many needs pulling on her. But it was not the human characters that so fascinated me in the movie. It was the Roller Derby.

Prior to watching “Whip It,” I had no idea such a sport existed. I vaguely recall there being a televised games on after pro-wrestling, but neither were something that appealed to me at the time. And it never would have crossed my mind that the sport might be going through an enormous growth spurt.

I quickly determined that there was a flat-track Roller Derby league in town, and we went to a bout. The music was loud, and the hits were hard. As I sat there watching these women skate around the track, colliding with each other, falling, getting up, skating more, I yelled over the music to my spouse “I want to do THIS!”

Just a few weeks later, we were at the local St. Patricks Day parade, in which the team was participating. Like a scene from a movie, one of the skaters came right up to me, shoved a flier in my hand and said “Have you ever thought about being in Roller Derby?” Why yes, yes I had.

The flier indicated that the information session was on a Sunday, and that bootcamp training was on Sunday mornings. This caused me a moment of despair, since Sundays are a prime workday for me as the sole minister in a congregation – definitely not something I could just work around. But I looked on the calendar and saw that the information session was on one of my Sundays off, so I thought maybe I would go and check it out.

So there I sat.

And sat. I worried about what people would think if I actually went through with this. I worried about how my congregants might react. I worried about what the skaters might think when they found out what I did for a living.

But then I began to think about all the times fear and anxiety had kept me from doing something, whether it was something relatively small like trying a new restaurant or talking to someone new, or something larger I had always wanted to try, like skydiving or doing a study abroad in college. I thought about my daughters, and what I wanted to model for them. And I thought about what I would say to a congregant who came to me with a similar quandary: “Will you regret it more if you don’t check it out?”

Finally, it was almost time for the session to begin. I knew it was time to get out of the car and walk through those doors. But those first steps into the unknown? They are so difficult. They can be the most difficult steps we take.

I remember those steps. I remember getting out of the car, and closing the door behind me. I remember my heart, pounding with anxiety as I walked across the parking lot towards the doors of the rink. I remember that the first door I tried was locked, which was almost enough to make me give up. But I had seen other people going in, so I tried another door, which thankfully opened.

And then I heard something that instantly made me more comfortable. A woman cried out “Yay, Rookies!” as several of us looked around confused. She pointed to where the orientation session would be and off we went.

I am often my own worst enemy. As I sat in the car, I had been telling myself a story about how I didn’t belong there at the rink because I was too old, or too out of shape, or too whatever. And that story almost stopped me from doing something that would turn out to be one of the most formative experiences of my life. Almost.

Instead of letting that voice of anxiety be the last voice, I managed to gather up my inner resources and get out of the car and walk in. It may sound crazy, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever done by choice.

Someone once tried to describe to my child what it means to brave. “It means not having any fear,” she said. But that is not right. Bravery is not about the absence of fear, it is about overcoming fear.

Was I being brave the way soldiers are brave when they go into battle? No. Was I being brave the way a parent is forced to be brave when dealing with a child with a terminal illness? No. But that does not mean it was not a form of bravery nonetheless. I was taking a risk. And risking is a way of being brave.

Taking a risk means doing something even though you know you might fail. It means being ready to not only accept, but embrace failure. It is in taking risks that we experience some of the most profound growth as human beings as we learn about the limits of what we are and are not capable of.

When we are afraid to take risks, afraid that we might fail, we are often telling ourselves a story. The fear of failure comes because we don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, or as lacking somehow. We don’t want others to see our limitations, to see that we are only human after all. So often, we want to project this image that we have all our shit together, that we are strong and capable. We shy away from anything that might threaten our ability to project such a mirage.

The paradox is that we can not get all our shit together, develop strength and resilience, become the amazing people we are capable of being without knowing what it is like to fail. Which means taking a chance, taking a risk.

One of my favorite quotes ever, perhaps one of the most influential quotes in my life if I were to think about it, is from author Marianne Williamson. She writes:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

It might seem like a stretch to say that getting out of my car that day was a way of letting my light shine, but it was, even if no one saw it other than me. Everyone who sat there during that orientation was nervous – some more so, some less. None of us knew what to expect. And yet we had managed to overcome our fear.

I have found that, at times of deepest fear or anxiety in my life, times when I feel almost immobilized, I am able to recall those minutes in the car. If I can do that, I tell myself, I can do anything. I choose to try to live my life, not without fear because that is impossible, but constantly overcoming my fear.

It was on that day that Liv Fearless was born – on that walk from the parking lot to the doors of the rink. She was born during the orientation, when I saw that the bootcamp practices were Sunday morning and I resolved to ask if I could get some sort of special dispensation due to my work schedule (I did, and I did!). She was born to help me overcome my own anxiety, to take risks, to let my own light shine so that others might do similarly.

the story.

27 Sep

Here is the wonderful piece done by Adam Lefkoe and Michael Driver at WHAS.  It is now available on YouTube.

This one is sooooo much better than the shortened piece that CNN used.  It tells a rich story and isn’t going for sensationalism.

ministry and roller derby.

23 Sep

Listen!

A hearty welcome to all of you who have come here, looking for more information about me, the Rev. Dawn Cooley, also known as “Liv Fearless”.

Maybe you saw the wonderful piece our local news folks did, or read about it on facebook, or saw it on CNN.com. To be honest, I am humbled by how many of you have seen it and been inspired, or have reached out to connect with me. Thank you, and yes, I am crying again. I do that quite a lot, as my congregation will tell you.

I thought it would be a good idea to give you more information about my church and my team. So here you go! Also, if you are interested in the sermon I wrote for that service, you can get to it at: https://revdawn.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/answering-yes-to-life/

I skate as “Liv Fearless” for the Derby City Roller Girls. My bootcamp started in March 2010, so I am pretty new at this but I have taken to it like a fish to water. I love it. I love my teammates, I love the physicality of it, I love it. Its not all roses, of course – hanging out with a bunch of strong women creates conflict and tension, but we all are in it together and that sure goes a long way. We are in our training season right now, so I don’t have a game schedule to share with you yet, but I can tell you we are working hard to pull together some fun activities for those of you who might be in town.

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and I serve First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY. My congregation has been in Louisville since 1830 – it was one of the first churches in the town! We are a liberal religious congregation made of people from all walks of life. We welcome everyone, without regard to theological preference, sexual or gender orientation, race, age, culture, ability level, education level, socio-economic class….EVERYONE! I love that our fellowship/coffee hour after the service will have a president of a university talking with someone who currently lives in a shelter, a Wiccan chatting it up with an Athiest, a 5th grader getting coffee for one of our octogenarians.

We are a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association. If you’re interested in the exciting, free faith tradition known as Unitarian Universalism, visit our Association’s web site at www.uua.org.

And if you are interested in learning more about me, well, you found my blog so have fun checking it out! And feel free to contact me if you have more questions.

answering “Yes” to life.

29 Mar

Life Lessons from Roller Derby

Delivered March 27, 2011 at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.
To put to rout all that was not life and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Reading

“God went RollerBlading” by Cynthia Rylant

Introduction: Why Roller Derby?

Life is stressful. No matter what many folks may claim, there is no instruction book that answers all the questions we have as we live and learn and grow; as we suffer and celebrate; as we fail and succeed. Life is stressful.

So stressful, even 150 years ago, that transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau decided to go to the woods to see what life was really about.

These days, that’s not always an option. And still, amidst the day to day messiness of life, we need to find ways to answer YES to life. To embrace this amazing experience that, as far as we know, we only get one chance at.

How do we answer YES to life?

Even before I became a minister, I knew that ministry would be stressful. That it is not something that I can just put down as I walk through the front door – it is a vocation – a part of who I am, a piece of my general nature.

But when the New York times reported that ministers “now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at higher rates than most Americans,” it caught my attention. The report continued to share that “in the last decade [ministers] use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.” Wow. This was not good news – not at all.

I want to be the minister here for a good, long time. And I want to live a balanced, healthy, whole life. Reading the article brought home the fact that the only way to do all this was to find ways to take care of myself. To find a healthy way to answer YES to life.

When I saw the movie “Whip It,” I thought I might have found an answer. I have always loved skating. Growing up I would skate around my unfinished basement – round and round and round. As I got older, I took up rollerblading and I would take my dogs for runs on skates. But combine skating with physical contact and intensity? It looked like so much fun – and such a powerful release.

I dragged my family to a few bouts of our local team, the Derby City Roller Girls and began to learn more about it. When I went to last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the team was there skating around. Just like out of a movie, a skater came right up to me “HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT ROLLER DERBY?” she asked as she shoved a flier in my hands. Why yes, yes I had. It turned out the information session for potential recruits was the next Sunday – a Sunday that I had off.

Fate? Providence? Happenstance?

It didn’t matter – I was about to find a powerful way to take care of myself, to get healthy, to give a resounding “yes” to life.

What is Roller Derby?

Demonstration!!  Can’t really capture it in a blog post, but there was music, skating, and commentating.  Very fun!

Lessons Learned from Roller Derby, pt. 1

Fate? Providence? Happenstance?

It didn’t matter – I was about to find a powerful way to take care of myself, to get healthy, to give a resounding “yes” to life.

The next Sunday, with my stomach all a’flutter, I drove to the skating rink. Would I be too out of shape? Too old? Not aggressive enough?

I watched one person, then another, walk through the doors. I gathered my courage and walked in.

“Yeah Rookies!” I heard as I walked in, and suddenly I felt better. Those of us who were interested spanned over a generation in ages and the whole gamut of fitness levels. I absorbed the information, the testimonials from other skaters, and saw with relief that were skaters even a few years older than me. I began to get more and more excited.

Then, my heart almost dropped. Bootcamp training for rookies was on Sunday mornings.

Y’all might not know this, but I have a job that keeps me busy most Sunday mornings.

I listened to the rest of the information session, simultaneously excited and depressed. Could I make it work?

Lesson Number 1 – Something I didn’t exactly learn from Roller Derby, but that was reinforced by my experience with Roller Derby. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

When I got home that first Sunday, I wrote an email to the appropriate folks on the team, explaining that I was desperately interested, but that my job prevented me from being there on Sunday mornings. I told them I would be very dedicated and was prepared to work extra hard if there was a way they could help me figure out the schedule situation. They did. I am so glad I asked. You don’t know if you don’t ask. Push a little, and the answer might just be “Yes.”

And now I would like to introduce the woman behind the “Yeah Rookies” that helped me get through the door that first day, and who helped figure out a way to accommodate my unique schedule. Jailbreak Jenny has been the rookie coach for a number of seasons. She is a co-captain on the team, is on the training committee, and holds a bunch more important titles that would probably not mean a lot to you. But at the heart, she loves roller derby, and loves the team, and her cheerful attitude and encouragement have sustained many a skater through times of self-doubt.

Pep Talk

Jailbreak Jenny, Veteran Skater & Holder of Many Important Titles, gave a great motivational speech!

Lessons Learned from Roller Derby, pt. 2

Thank you, Jailbreak. You continue to inspire me. I’ve learned so much from you, from my teammates, and from my experience with the Derby City Roller Girls. Ever since that first day, I have been learning, not only about the game, but about life, and about myself. I have learned so much, in fact, that I have 13 things that I would like to share with all of you right now. Don’t worry! They are pretty short.

The first lesson that I mentioned a few minutes ago was something I already knew, but that my experience with boot-camp reinforced: You don’t know if you don’t ask. Connected to this is a second lesson, one that my Derby name is based on: Liv Fearless. Now, I’m not talking about going into dangerous situations as if there is nothing to fear – I’m talking about moving through the kind of fear that prevents you from doing something you want to do. The kind of fear that almost kept me in my car that first day. Live Fearlessly, because it is hard to embrace life if we are afraid to live it.

Living, even fearlessly, means that sometimes we are going to fail, we are going to fall. I would actually guess that the more we are living fearlessly, the more often we’re going to fall, since we are pushing ourselves more, challenging ourselves, taking more risks.. So we better learn how to do it. This is the third lesson I learned from Roller Derby: How to fall. In roller derby, we have pads on the front – our knees, elbows and wrists. That’s where we try to fall. But if you’ve ever been skating, you know that you are more inclined to fall backwards. In roller derby, in gymnastics, and in other sports, learning how to fall is essential. And it is in life, as well. We all fail sometimes – we all fall down. When we figure out how to fall safely, which is usually wherever we have the most protective padding, we find we are less likely to be injured..

Which leads to lesson four: when we do, inevitably, fall, get back up, quick. You’ve heard the saying, if you fall off a horse, get right back on. I actually fell off a horse when I was growing up, and I didn’t get right back on. I was scared!! And I came very close to never getting back on ever again. It’s much easier in the long run, when we do inevitably fall, or fail, to get back up quickly. Besides, in roller derby, if we don’t get back up quick, someone might run over us!

Now, this does not apply if we are injured. Sometimes, when we fall, or fail, we need to stay down for a little while. We need to assess how damaged we are. And we might need someone to help us. This is lesson five: We do best for ourselves when we accept help when we are in need of it – we heal faster. Sometimes, I think, we are tempted to say that we can do it ourselves, or to rationalize that someone might be more hurt than we are. We forget that we are all sometimes in need of support by our teammates, by our communities, our churches, our loved ones. When we are injured – in body, mind or spirit, we heal fastest when we learn how to graciously ask for, and receive, help.

In roller derby, that help often comes from coaches and teammates. Another area in which I have experienced deep learning is around what it means to be a part of a team. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t actually my first team experience. I played soccer and field-hockey growing up, I’ve done academic team activities. And much of the work I do, I can only accomplish with a team of paid professionals and lay leaders. It wasn’t until Roller Derby that I feel like I could actually put words to what it means to be a part of of a team, and now that I can, I can apply the learning in many different areas of my life.

Lesson six from roller derby is that part of being on a team means doing my part. If I am playing a blocker, I need to know what to do in certain scenarios. If I am playing a jammer, that means another set of scenarios. I need to learn the rules of the game, and then practice them. It also means that I have to do things outside practice that will make me a better teammate.

And being part of a team means that I don’t have to do everything myself, I just need to try to do my job the best I can. This is lesson 7. Thank goodness I don’t have to do everyone else’s job!!! Part of letting other folks do their job is to trust them. This can be hard for those of us who are control freaks, and absolutely necessary. Even if I were the best roller derby player in the world, I couldn’t play the game all by myself – I need teammates. Even if I were the best minister in the whole world, I couldn’t do it all by myself. In fact, not only is it necessary, it is sometimes easier (once we get the hang of it!) to trust others than to try to shoulder all that responsibility ourselves.

Connected to this is lesson #8: Being part of a team also means it is often for the greater good to let go of little things. Sometimes, when I’m practicing, I end up getting irritated when I continuously catch someone’s elbow in my neck, or when I’m are trying to trust a teammate and she isn’t living up to my expectations of her. To function as a team, I have to leave these petty squabbles on the sidelines, because carrying the hurt with me is bad for the team. So it is with life.

I know a woman who was queen of the petty squabbles. This woman and her friend Helen had been best friends for over 50 years. One day Helen did something this woman didn’t like. It wasn’t a big thing, just a little annoyance. And this woman refused to talk to Helen for 2 years. 2 years! Her best friend in the world.

Who does that help? No one. Carrying petty squabbles is bad for the team, bad for relationships, bad for family, bad for a community. Leave them on the sideline.

But I can’t stay on the sideline myself. Lesson #9 is that being on a team means showing up. Especially when I really don’t want to. My roller derby practices are in the evenings – after meetings, when I really want to go home and spend time with my family. But my teammates depend on me to show up, to be there. And so I go.

And there is another reason to show up. Jailbreak Jenny shared some wisdom around this not too long ago. She tells rookies that when you most don’t want to go is when you are most likely to have some sort of breakthrough. I suspect she is right. As Woody Allen wisely said, “90% of life is just showing up.”

Show up. I just might learn something. Or thirteen somethings! Four more to go…

I’ll tell you what, though. One thing I really didn’t expect to learn was about ancient philosophy. But I am – go figure. On a philosophical level, I have come to a better understanding of the harmfulness that dualism has committed upon our culture. Stick with me here for a minute. Dualism is the idea that our mind and bodies are completely separate entities. It is an ancient concept that is also echoed in the biblical scriptures, which teach that humankind was created with a body, and with a soul. Over the years, the body has gotten shortchanged, with the mind and the soul being somehow more important, more…elevated.

I am coming to appreciate that this is not a healthy, whole, way to live. Lesson #10 is that, it is when the mind, body and spirit are working together that we are able to most fully experience life. Our minds may be running the show most of the time (or so we like to tell ourselves until we experience something like chronic pain), but when we pay attention, we realize that we know things in our bodies that we don’t know in our mind. The muscle memory that I learned, skating in circles in my basement growing up, has enabled me to pick up the basics of roller derby faster than many folks who don’t have that experience.

Roller derby is driving home for me the understanding that, as human beings, we do ourselves a disservice when we begin to think of our bodies as less than other aspects of our human selves. Our minds, bodies & spirits are linked…inseparable. We are the whole package.

Connected to this the eleventh lesson that I have learned from Roller Derby: that it is okay, even good, to get dirty sometimes. I wouldn’t say that I was averse to sweat and dirt before Roller Derby, except, well, I pretty much was. Now, I put on my stinky pads and head to the rink, where, before long, sweat is pouring off me, the padding in my helmet is soon soaked, and, truth be told, I couldn’t be happier. And so now I find myself not hating getting dirty in other situations either – yard work, or chasing after the kids. Because now I know – get dirty, getting sweaty – these provide evidence that I am actively engaging in my world, not just along for the ride.

Not only am I actively engaging my world, I am strong. Physically. Lesson number twelve is a deep appreciation for my health, my physical strength. Up until now, my relationship with my body has been mostly “Yup, there it is.” Prior to having children, I never admired what my body was capable of. When I had kids, I was pretty amazed at what I could do – gestating a new human being and feeding her in her early months. After a few years, I didn’t feel that same admiration, same appreciation. I do now. I am healthy. Okay, yes, a bit bruised, but bruises heal. And every day, after practice, I am grateful that I have my health, because I know it won’t last – ideally I will live long enough to see things start to slow down, my capabilities decrease. And then I pray I will be able to appreciate my body for having sustained me all these years.

I am strong, and, finally, lesson number thirteen: I am beautiful, and so are you. What a wonderful thing to learn. Yes, I’ve probably always been strong and beautiful, just like the god in the poem [by Cynthia Rylant] is always invincible, but doesn’t always feel that way. I haven’t always felt that way about myself. And while I am quite adept at appreciating the internal beauty of people, I’d never really gotten the whole “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes” thing. Now, I get it. My teammates are gorgeous. Stunning. They teach me that beauty truly does come in all shapes, and all sizes. Roller Derby has given me deeper, more full understanding of what beauty looks like – bigger, broader than the images we are fed in the media, that tell us that we must be thinner, heavier, blonder, tanner, paler, taller, shorter, less hairy – that we are somehow not beautiful just the way we are. But we are – each of us. Each and everyone of us, each and every one of you, we are all beautiful in our own ways.

Amen.

I didn’t know, when I walked through the doors of the skating rink that first time, that I would find something that would teach me so much, that would challenge me to grow in new and exciting ways. I was desperate, looking for a way to live more fully. I had no idea the rich experiences I would have.

May we each find our own ways to answer “yes” to life, because when we do, we can have faith that when our time comes to die, we will discover that, yes indeed, we have truly lived. May it be so.

Closing Words

When the spirit says do, you gotta do. You gotta take a risk, try something new, do what you don’t think you can do, do something fun, love, laugh, weep, mourn, challenge and be challenged, grow, learn, LIVE (fearlessly). And may we all find ways to answer “Yes” to life. Blessed be.

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