Maybe you don’t know how strong girls can be.
Let me tell you a story about what I know.
I know what it’s like to grow up a girl in a house full of boys in the 80s. I know what it’s like to hear the rumor that you can do anything while simultaneously watching how that actually plays out.
Take dodgeball for example.
Dodgeball. That game with the hand held rubber balls you throw at each other as hard as you can. Why as hard as you can? Because you don’t want the person to catch the ball, you want the person to get hit by the ball. If they get hit with the ball, they’re out. If they catch the ball, you’re out. Simple.
When I was in elementary school I went to a summer day camp. In the morning, after drop off but before camp officially began, the kids would all play dodgeball. Mostly the older teens, but because camp had not yet started for the day, the younger children could mix in with them, too.
Normally, the younger children choose to mix in with the older children to showcase their amazing, advanced, dodgeball skills. Not me. On that day, I joined in because I thought it would be fun. I believed that the older children would take into account how small I was even for the lowest age group.
In the 80s, you learn lessons the hard way.
The few minutes I spent on the field, to this day I can conjure up how it felt like a battlefield. The expressions, the sounds of satisfied triumph and stinging, shameful defeat, dodgeballs flying so fast, you can barely see them. I was lost out there, unable to catch or capture a ball to throw, startled by how hard the kids around me were getting hit.
The biggest kid on the field took aim. I saw it. I saw the whole thing. I saw his expression change from glory to terror right as the ball left his hand, as he realized too late that he had used too much force for such a small target.
That’s all I saw because when the dodgeball hit me in the face, the force of it brought me up off my feet, into the air and slammed my whole body onto the ground. Never before has anyone thrown a dodgeball that hard, and probably not since.
What happens next, the memory of it, brings me to tears.
While there is an outburst of accusations ranging from, ‘you’re in deep shit’ to ‘who let her on the field,’ only one person reacts appropriately. The strongest kid in the group ran to me, picked me up like a baby and RAN me over to the nurse. She was my hero.
I always wanted to thank her. But I was so overwhelmed with gratitude, that even to this day, I don’t have the right words to convey the emotions in my heart. It’s not just that she picked me up when I was down, it’s the way she did the right thing without hesitation. Alone. Truly, a hero.
That’s a role model.
Years later, that beautiful strong girl went on to play football for our high school, the first girl ever. I used to watch the football games and feel this enormous sense of pride, like that’s the girl who carried me, look at her, she can do anything. She can do things I’ve never even seen before. She matters.
I’ve had my moments. I’ve picked up many people who were down and cradled them to my chest. I have held the hands of countless emergency room victims of violence and advocated on their behalf. I have argued in Court pro bono to make children and families safe from violence. I have empathized with every soul who has looked to me for advice and counsel. But I have not yet been able to pay that one forward, I have not physically carried a stranger to safety.
I am so ready for that moment. That moment when objects are flying, people are screaming and pointing blame at each other. In that moment, I am ready to, without hesitation, physically remove the person in need of protection to carry them to safety. Alone. I am prepared to do the right thing because I know what a hero looks like, Luana Halftown showed me.
Thank you for showing me strength. Because of you, I know that strength involves care, kindness, empathy, bravery, compassion, self sacrifice, faith and intuition. Strength is about having heart.