By: Icy Frantz
I usually cry when I am feeling inspired when something or someone is so remarkable it’s as if God is pinching me – “Take note. This matters.”
In the last week alone, I have been moved to tears more than once. First, there was the incredible young poet, Amanda Gorman, so poised on the world stage, dressed in bright yellow, offering her written words of passion while simultaneously moving her hands in encouragement. Yesterday I watched from my bedroom window as the sun rose, also bright in color, and message a majestic awakening and greeting of the day. And then this year’s three amazing finalists for the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year award that I was honored to meet on a Zoom call also had my eyes welling. I am sure there were additional outbursts, because honestly, while others find it difficult to show emotion, I have trouble containing it.
But what is it about a word that is often trite and sometimes elusive? Inspire defined is to excite, encourage, affect, or arouse. It is derived from the Latin root inspirare, which means “to breathe or blow into”. Digging even farther back into history, inspire is described as “a divine or supernatural influence or action”. These definitions are broad in scope, ranging from mere encouragement to a much loftier supernatural influence, and this has led to its overuse and misuse, and a reaction to its use that is often cringeworthy.
To be clear, I do not cry when I have been “inspired” to get my nails done by some friend with a perfectly fresh manicure, and I do not fall prey to extreme emotional undoing when I am “inspired” to clean my car because of the ghastly smell of a spilled latte. These dumbed-down versions of inspiration are important – motivating even – but they pale in comparison to the type of inspiration that truly energizes me.
For the sake of this piece, I will focus on the type of inspiration that is related to transcendence; sometimes temporary, but always weighty. The “take note, this matters” moments when we are so moved by nature, an action, a person, or a performance that we want to do better, be better. This kind of inspiration knows no bounds. It is not limited by race or religion, financial situation, or party affiliation – isn’t that refreshing? It’s the stirring of something new, improved, or more importantly, a shift in one’s previous concerns.
I am always inspired by stories of people who have overcome adversity. Always. It’s the finest example of “we can do hard things”; the stories where people have literally done amazing things in the face of great challenge. I have a friend who paints even though she has lived with a chronic arthritic condition her whole life. And another friend who has raised her children on her own while her former husband goes in and out of institutions due to a mental condition. And still, another friend who has beaten cancer not once, not twice, but three times, and lives with the most beautiful outlook on life. We are all given hard in life – some more than others – but to live with it and through it with grace and tenacity is inspiring.
I am equally inspired too by those incredible souls who go out of their way, sometimes despite their own circumstances, to better the lives of others. Mother Teresa singlehandedly inspired the world with her commitment to others; she is a wonderful example, but there are so many others right here in our own communities and across the globe. Look at our healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic, or the volunteers and workers manning our soup kitchens, our food pantries. And look at our youth, the next generation who may be the most inspiring of all. I know a young girl who raised over $7,000 in one day at her lemonade stand to help an animal sanctuary and a young boy who collected over 2,000 pairs of socks for the homeless. I love when a young person has so much to teach me.
I know I am not alone, but sometimes leaving a funeral, I am full of both sadness and inspiration, two seemingly conflicting emotions. Of course, I am sad at the thought of death, a loss, and of a life without, but I am often inspired by the life that was lived. Listening to the eulogies at a funeral, it is hard to not take stock of our own life. In fact, sitting on the wooden bench of a pew, I have often plotted a new path. I will be kinder, more engaged, a better mother, a more loving wife. I think about my own funeral (what will be said – Good God!) and what would I like to have said and how can I make the necessary changes.
It’s easy to be inspired by nature. I have climbed more than a few mountains in my lifetime, and perhaps delirious from exhaustion at their peaks, looking out at the land below and beyond is inspiring. Certainly, it’s a moment of great pride – I made it! – and the reward is the view. But more than that, it’s a feeling of connection to our world, and the consideration of its maker, and the reflection of our own little piece in a much greater whole. But we don’t need to climb a mountain to be inspired by nature; it’s all around us, in our largest cities and across the barest plains. We just need to stop and take it in.
Writers and artists and all creative souls look for inspiration everywhere. Sometimes it simply mysteriously appears at odd moments and in strange places in unusual ways. And sometimes it needs to be coaxed like one would cajole a dog away from a lurking skunk – consistently and calmly. For me, I have sat staring at a blank page, hoping, wishing that words and ideas will fill my head with no luck, and other times I can be driving in my car and suddenly be consumed with the words and ideas that were absent before. Where does it come from, this sneaky inspiration? I don’t know exactly, but I do know that I am extremely grateful when I put my hand out inadvertently and catch it.
To find inspiration we must first believe in it. We must see that even in a world fraught with disease and discourse there are stories, some every day, and some found on the world stage that collectively give us hope and personally transform us. We can put ourselves in the direct path of inspiration by intentionally seeking it, tilting our head in its direction. Stop and listen to the music, read about the lives of remarkable people, ask the questions that matter, commit to really getting to know the people in our lives, and marvel at what they have done and what they have overcome. Get up early to watch the sunrise, or sleep in and wonder at the midday light. Contemplate life’s finish line, it’s not over until it’s really over, and how to live a life, inspired.