By Icy Frantz
Some days I look at my computer screen and want to say, “Really? That’s all you got?” These days, it seems that the contents of my computer consist largely of mails from hackers eager for me to share my personal information, text messages from companies tempting me to buy items I do not need, and a very old screensaver – a photo taken a million years ago – of our daughter in a sunflower field.
If I look a little deeper, there are the daily, weekly, and monthly newsletters to which I have subscribed, as well as a few newspapers that I receive online. There are partially completed pieces that I have written, downloaded forms and documents available with one click (but no longer relevant), and the ever-present, annoying Dropbox pop-up that lets me know every time I turn on my computer that my is storage is almost 100% full.
So when a friend asked me recently where I find my inspiration, I had to pause for a second. I knew that although I do feel inspired most days, I find the source of that inspiration well beyond the machine that sits in front of me all day long.
Drawing from inspiration’s Latin origin, inspirare, the word literally means “to blow into, or breathe upon.”
And that same machine sitting on my desk in front of me is doing neither.
So, where do I find inspiration?
For me, it is usually found in the real-life stories of real-life people that are blown into my personal arena, or in nature’s beauty – not viewed in a picture or post, but by experiencing it, breathing it in.
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to be a part of the first (hopefully annual) Women’s Conference at Christ Church, and there was power in being in the presence of so many women – listening, telling, and engaging. I was given the opportunity to share parts of my story, but the beauty of the entire day – the inspiration for me – came when others shared parts of their story with me.
I am not particularly inspired by the exterior, by the way someone looks and how they seem to effortlessly throw together an outfit (envious maybe, but not inspired). Their accomplishments, resume, titles, or intellect may impress me, but what truly inspires me is their story – the road they have journeyed to become who they are, not what they are.
Sometimes I am inspired by actions – someone’s ability to forgive the unforgiveable, the capacity to put love first (before anything and despite anything), an inexhaustible desire to help others, or the grainy grit to overcome a difficult life circumstance.
Often, inspiration takes willingness and time: willingness to listen and linger, and the time to do both.
I work with an older woman in town. Her brain is the brain of an older woman. Occasionally she gets a little confused; occasionally colleagues get a little frustrated. One day, a mutual friend told me about her career as a lawyer – a brilliant lawyer, at a time when it was difficult to be a woman in the legal profession. And now, knowing her story, I look at her with new eyes, inspired by her determination.
If we lingered and took the time to get to know the stories behind the people in our lives, we would be more inspired.
And if we got to know the stories behind the people in our lives – especially the ones we don’t particularly like, the ones on the other side of the political aisle, the one that just cut us off on 95 – think how much better life would be, to feel inspired rather than irritated.
Jack London, an American novelist said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
I would add that sometimes, you have to intentionally hunt it down.
Other times it is right in front of us.
Take our children, for example.
Even when our teenage daughters are unloading all of their teenage hormonal angst on us (I have no personal experience with this – just saying), we must consider that they get up every morning, and even though they did not ace their history exam, they still need to give a 4 minute public speaking presentation. They did not get the leadership position they wanted and they stayed up late – really late – writing an English paper, and they still have to sit through 50 minutes of math. The college they love is now considered a reach, not a probable, and the cute boy doesn’t even know they exist.
I could go on, but you get it – our kids keep on keeping on day after day, persisting, pushing, persevering…and inspiring.
And I bet there are a few things about ourselves – within our own story – that are inspiring. We may focus more of our attention on those uninspiring moments (we all have them), but if we considered the times that we stood up, rose up, spoke up, stepped outside of our comfort zone and gave well beyond our means, maybe we would be kinder to ourselves. And maybe those very moments even inspired another.
David Brooks might think that I am dumbing down inspiration – real inspiration – and stripping it of its profound and powerful effect and making the experience of being inspired ordinary rather than extraordinary. In his New York Times piece, “What is Inspiration?”, he says, “Inspiration is a much-used, domesticated, amorphous and secular word for what is actually a revolutionary, countercultural, and spiritual phenomenon.”
And I guess I would argue that inspiration is personal, and that if we have the chance to feel inspired more, why not? So, rather than “much-used,” inspiration is well-used, and used for good.
Because inspiration is rarely silent; it whispers to us and makes an impression – coaxing us to be better, to dream bigger, to keep on keeping on – and it gifts us with the belief that anything is possible. It shows us that there is good in the world.
Which, as Mr. Brooks so aptly pointed out, is quite “revolutionary”.
To go back to that original question – where do I find inspiration? I pursue it – in people and their stories just waiting to be shared, in the sunrises that unlatch the day and the sunsets that wrap it up. It’s all around us really; there for our taking as well as our giving. And if we take – and give – that opportunity to be inspired, to inspire, breathing it from one to another- then the possibilities are endless.
You can reach me at The Icing on The Cake. Icyfrantz.net