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The Grit Directory

The novelist Stephen Wright once said that when people ask him what book he would bring to read if he were shipwrecked, he always responds with ‘How To Build A Boat.’

And that is basically the epitome of grit:

Being in a less than desirable situation and figuring out how the hell to get out of it.

Getting diagnosed with, let alone managing, chronic disease can be daunting, even on a good day. It feels like a revolving door of frequent doctors’ appointments (as well as the worry of taking time off of work or finding transportation to and from), followed by the all-too-often labs, imaging, and infusions that ensue. Making time for second opinions, finding board-certified specialists, and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy takes a toll. On top of that, finding more time to communicate with insurance companies can be especially soul-draining. It’s a challenge and a lifestyle adjustment that no one is prepared for until they are in the midst of it.

We're all allowed to have days when we let it get to us. 

Grit doesn't require us to be some stoic, John Wayne type that never falls apart -- that wasn't even John Wayne. Even his most famous character, of the movie 'True Grit', Rooster Cogburn, was a hot mess sometimes. But he showed up when it mattered. 

Courage, John Wayne said, means being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. 

Below, you'll find what I like to call 'The Grit Directory.' It's some of the things that feed the fire in my soul and replenishes my own grit when I've had a hard time replenishing the well myself. 

Claire Wineland reminds me how to be grace under fire.


Jonathan Mooney reminds me to prove the naysayers wrong.


Roseanne Cash so powerfully reminds me of the presence of her father, Johnny Cash, and to question, persist, and verify until I'm satisfied... and to remember that some of the most beautiful pieces of me are a result of things that broke me.


Aimee Mullins teaches me that when I change my perspective on adversity, I change the outcome of my life. 


Al Pacino in 'Scent of a Woman' teaches me to stand up to the man.


On days when humanity is disappointing me, Charlie Chaplin's speech in 'The Great Dictator' makes me feel so proud of what we are all capable of becoming.

For me, developing grit means learning from others that I find gritty. And I find grit in great senses of humor, in passionate monologues from great movies, in music that nourishes me right down to my bones, in books that I can't put down, and in people who are going through things sometimes entirely different than I am but overcome their adversity, which inspires me to do so also.

Below, I give to you a boatload of grit. 

When you are feeling shipwrecked, I hope these things help you build your own boat. 

Movers and Shakers

“You’re never going to be happy with what you get unless you’re happy with what you have. And that’s what you have to do with your life. You have to look at all of it. All of the pain, all of the loneliness, all of the beauty, all the friendship and the family, and you know, and the sickness and the health and you have to lay it all in front of you and you have to say, ok, this is what I have, it’s all wonderful, and what can I make with it.”

“I walked back across campus to Father Young and said, ‘Not gonna be an English major,’ and he said ‘why?’ And I said ‘that guy thinks it’s too hard because of my disabilities.’ Father Young was real quiet, then he looked at me and said in a way that only an old school Jesuit can, ‘Well son, I guess you’re just gonna have to prove that bastard wrong.’”

“I love being relentless, because that saved my life.”
Roseanne Cash

"In our desire to protect those we care about by giving them the cold hard truth about their medical prognosis, or on the expected quality of their life, we have to make sure that we don’t put the first brick in a wall that will actually disable someone. Perhaps, the existing model of only looking at what is broken in you and how do we fix it serves to be more disabling to the individual than the pathology itself. By not treating the wholeness of a person, by not acknowledging their potency, we are creating another ill on top of whatever natural struggle they might have."

~ Aimee Mullins

Belly Laughter

Music for the Soul

Movies for Spirit Cardio


“You are never going to be happy with what you get unless you are happy with what you have — and that’s what you have to do with your life — you have to look at all of it: all of the pain, all of the loneliness, all of the beauty, all of the friendship and the family, and the sickness and the health and you have to lay it all in front of you and say ok this is what I have, it’s all wonderful. Now what can I make with it?” 

~ Claire Wineland

Kelly's Literary Corner

Part three of Mary Oliver’s poem reminding us to make use of the time that we have. She wrote this after being diagnosed with lung cancer. 


“The Fourth Zodiac”

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

So why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.


A poem by Edmund Vance Cooke that my Nan shared with me while battling Crohn's and arthritis as a teenager:

How Did You Die?

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful? 
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful? 
Oh, a trouble's a ton, or a trouble's an ounce, 
Or a trouble is what you make it, 
And it isn't the fact that you're hurt that counts, 
But only how did you take it? 

You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what's that! 
Come up with a smiling face.
It's nothing against you to fall down flat, 
But to lie there-that's disgrace.
The harder you're thrown, why the higher you bounce
Be proud of your blackened eye! 
It isn't the fact that you're licked that counts; 
It's how did you fight-and why? 

And though you be done to the death, what then? 
If you battled the best you could, 
If you played your part in the world of men, 
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce, 
And whether he's slow or spry, 
It isn't the fact that you're dead that counts, 
But only how did you die? 


A few of my favorite lines from a poem by Andrea Gibson about how lovely it is to simply exist.

"When You Believe Your Body Is Your Enemy"


Imagine, when a human dies
the soul misses the body,
actually grieves the loss 
of its lost hands, and all 
they could hold. Misses 
the wanting lips, the searching 
tongue, the throat closing 
shy reading out loud 
on the first day of school...

... Misses how the body could sleep 
through a dream. What else can 
sleep through a dream?

What else can laugh?

What else can wrinkle 
the smile’s autograph?

Imagine the soul misses each falling 
eyelash waiting to be wished.

... When a human dies the soul moves through the universe
trying to describe how a body trembles 
when it’s lost, softens when it’s safe, how 
a wound would heal given nothing but time.

Do you understand? 

Nothing in space can imagine it. 
No comet, no nebula, no ray of light 
can fathom the landscape of awe, the heat of shame. 
The fingertips pulling the first gray hair
and throwing it away. "I can’t imagine it," 
the stars say. "Tell us again about goosebumps.
Tell us again about pain."

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