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Elan Vitae


  • Paige Nolan


If I sang my first lesson in rising, it would sound like a fight song, an anthem, a victory march.

Toughness flexes to the beat of Eye of the Tiger. Strength struts in the key of Don’t Stop Believin’.

These were the early years when I thought there was a specific way to overcome the hard parts of life – the way of airtight conviction, relentless resolve, a singular push past pain on the number 8 of a 10-count. Battered and bloodied, exhausted but brave, one rises up – fierce as fire and unleashes, from the depths of determination, exactly what is needed to triumph.

I am in middle school when the Just Do It campaign starts and that’s how I approached my life – do it all. And if you think you can’t do it, do it anyway. When things are hard, try harder.

I get a driver’s license and I drive around my neighborhood with the windows down, blaring the tracks that play beneath the montage in my future life movie where I face the setback and just go to work, muscle through the moment, do the bold thing to surmount the insurmountable – and defy the odds.

I already know the names of the songs that will go on My Best Life soundtrack.

I Will Survive – yes, I will. And not only that – I will win. With my beloveds – We are the Champions and we will fight to the end.

At every turn in the first part of my life, I make my own rising about achieving goals.

There is only one question: what do I need to do to overcome?

It’s not a bad way to rise – it grows me up. I climb a little ladder of my own making, step through challenges and accomplish, build myself what I consider to be a good life.

I’m still in it today, older now. I have been married nearly 20 years, I have three teenagers, some dogs, a home, a career.

Life has lived on me. What it means to rise has evolved.

There is still a list of goals. I am still invested in achievement and I know when to use an anthem.

Like last Monday, when I had Don’t Stop Believin’ turned up loud in my car with the windows down. A biker pulled up next to me at the red light and we sang, “…working hard to get my fill, everybody wants a thrill, payin’ anything to roll the dice just one more time. Some’ll win, some’ll lose, some are born to sing the blues….” before the light turned green.

I bet he rode an extra mile or two that day. It changed my whole week. It’s uplifting to even think about it now. A fist pump with a stranger goes a long way. We are in this together.

But there are times when tenacity sings a different tune. In the last few years, I’ve had to add to my soundtrack.

Some days, I walk around the block with songs like Let It Be and Three Little Birds playing through my headphones. I hum Amazing Grace while I do the dishes. After a hard day at work, I don’t have the eye of the tiger. I am definitely not a champion, my friends. I have only a thin hope that John Hiatt’s voice can hold when he sings Have a Little Faith in Me.

I no longer imagine my future life movie where I muscle through moments and defy odds. Rather, I intend to meet the moment in real time and envision that I will be able and willing to be with my future, even if it turns out to be odd in ways I didn’t expect.

I am on my second lesson. And rising is way more than I thought it was.

It is fighting but it is also surrender. It is digging deep but it also letting go.

It is a roar and it is a whisper.

It is pushing past and it is choosing presence.

Rising is as much let’s fucking go as it is I am here.

And I’m glad I know now. I’m glad I know that rising isn’t just about overcoming – it is about who we become, whether we win the fight or release the need to win in the way we thought we had to.

Crying on the bathroom floor isn’t falling – it isn’t failing. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. You haven’t crumbled beneath the pain, you have connected with it.

While rising can show up as conquering – at its core, it is about connecting.

We connect with courage. And courage has a thousand faces. I have yet to meet them all, but I have seen more than a teeth-clenched grit, more than a cold silent gaze that is fixed on moving forward. I’ve seen a face full of question, eyes lowered and listless, an empty smile that delivers just enough upturn to get through the dinner party.

These faces of courage – we know them. We recognize them. They are the many versions of rising and each one looks like a hero.

And there’s something else. Over time, we learn. We take in what is less obvious to the eye and more what is felt. If you grow still and quiet, you can hear a language your heart understands.

Close your eyes. Listen.

Are you breathing?

This is the sound of every single one of us rising.

Photo credit: Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay


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