I’m angry this morning. White-hot mad. And this is an emotion that doesn’t come easily for me. I’ll pick hurt over hollering or down-and-dirty fighting in almost any circumstance.
You read that right—I did say almost. If you’re feeling brave, settle in and I’ll tell you the exceptions.
My little ring of elementary school friends (including the co-owner of the Dream Machine) spent hours at “the swing.” Before you imagine innocent plastic seats attached to sturdy metal chains, let me explain.
The swing was actually a long, slightly frayed rope hung from the very highest branch of the very tallest tree. It dangled over a steep embankment covered in red Texas dirt with roots running through it like pythons. An exceptionally adventurous family created the swing before the days when everyone sued everyone
for everything. They welcomed any wandering child to use it—unsupervised. Oh, what unlitigated bliss.
At the top of the slope, where the swing beckoned enticingly, were splinter-infested stairs leading to a shaky wooden platform. This set-up certainly violated every building code known to humankind. The idea was to grab the knot at the end of the rope, climb the aforementioned stairs, then jump off and swing (hence the name) over the open expanse as far as possible.
One day my hands, slick with sweat and quite possibly leftover ice cream, slid right off the rope. I dropped several feet before I landed with all the grace of a drunken monkey. Normally, I tried to put on a no-pain, no-gain face during my tomboy undertakings. But on this occasion, I howled for my mama so loudly someone swiftly fetched her.
The only other time I recall tears at the swing involved a bully from my school. Square-shouldered and dark-headed, he would sometimes show up uninvited to pick on us for crimes like having glasses or eating too much candy or, in my case, being a girl. Standing on that rock-dotted incline, he glared at me and called me a word none of us were supposed to utter under any circumstance. A word particularly unkind to those of my gender. I asked him to stop. Instead, he just turned up the volume and added a slight shove for emphasis.
And that was quite enough, thank you very much.
I twisted his arm, spun him around, and wrestled him to the rust-colored ground. Then I sat right on top of him like a stunned, sprawled-out horse. Once he caught his breath, I calmly requested an apology. After a few seconds of considering his predicament, he reluctantly muttered one. So I let him up, dusted off my acid-washed jean shorts, and started to get in line for my next turn on the swing.
But his repentance was fleeting, and as I walked away I heard the same ugly word. So I repeated my amateur cowgirl-meets-ninja act. Perched once again on his still-defiant back, I felt absolutely exasperated. Why didn’t he understand this wasn’t going to turn out well no matter how many times he tried it? Because of his stubbornness, I had the unfortunate burden of defending the reputation of all women everywhere yet again (because I certainly considered myself an appointed agent of global justice in that moment).
I don’t think I ever actually hurt anything but that bully’s pride. But being tackled by a girl proved too humiliating, so he finally relented. After that day he left us alone. And years later we all went swimming in his backyard pool like nothing ever happened.
This morning I’m angry because my life has been feeling a lot like that showdown at the swing. I’ve recently been battling anxiety again, which always comes with lies and accusations from the enemy of my soul. He hurls the most vicious words at me during my most vulnerable moments. I know he can’t beat me, but sometimes I just get downright frustrated with fighting someone who is going to lose. Every. Single. Time. It’s exhausting. I just want to get back to important things, the grown-up versions of swings and friends and going home to eat watermelon on the back porch with sticky hands while spitting seeds in impressive arcs toward the yard. There is only so much time in the day, after all.
Perhaps if this battle were mine alone I might just let the bully keep on shoutin’. But I don’t believe this battle is only about me. It’s about all my sisters. It’s about all my daughters. It’s about every woman in this world. Because every time one of us wins, we all do. We silence the roar of darkness a little more. We make it a bit harder for that bully to try something on one of us again.
A fool-headed boy messed with the wrong sweet girl that day at the swing. When I finally let him up for good, my friends looked at me with eyes round as our bike tires. I think they were both shocked and downright thrilled that the often quiet, typically gentle one took down the bully. News flash: I haven’t stopped.
And I hope you won’t either. We will all have days when we’re white-hot mad we have to go another round. We will all have moments when we want to run right on home. We will all have seasons when it seems easier just to take it. But that isn’t our destiny. We are tree-swingers and baby-rockers and mountain movers. We are girls. We are women. We are daughters of Eve in a fallen world. This means we will never stop being under attack. But it also means we will never—Dear Jesus, may we never—stop fighting back.
Holley Gerth is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, certified life coach, and speaker. She loves connecting with the hearts of women through her popular blog and books like You're Already Amazing. She's also cofounder of (in)courage and a partner with DaySpring. Holley lives with her husband, Mark, in the South. Hang out with her at www.holleygerth.com.