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Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage

What Does It Mean To Be a People of Perseverance?

“Right foot. Left foot. Breathe. Repeat.” This was Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt’s mantra as she battled Alzheimer’s disease at the end of her life. “Right foot. Left Foot. Breathe. Repeat.” I think of this often, in part because it seems like an incredibly courageous, faithful way of meeting something unbelievably horrific. Knowing that you have been diagnosed with a terrible disease, and somehow figuring out how you are going to deal with it. How is that even possible? But here’s the brilliance of it: when you break it down like that it actually sounds doable. “Right foot. Left foot. Breathe. Repeat.”

And so, when I’m not sure of a way forward, I remind myself of that phrase. When someone asks me how to go on, or needs a little encouragement, I pull this one up. “Right foot, left foot, breathe, repeat.” If perseverance is about anything, it’s about keeping on, even when that seems like an impossible thing.

Pat Summitt would be a good one to turn to for inspiration for perseverance, even if it weren’t for her own personal battle. She was one of the winningest coaches in college basketball. She said this in her book Sum It Up: “Quit? Quit? We keep score in life because it matters. It counts. Too many people opt out and never discover their own abilities, because they fear failure. They don’t understand commitment. When you learn to keep fighting in the face of potential failure, it gives you a larger skill set to do what you want to do in life. It gives you vision.” She was all about pushing her players—on the court and in life—to become and do their best.

And this, too, is important. The question we are pondering with our theme this month is not: How do we live a life of perseverance? No, the question is: what does it mean to be a people of perseverance? In other words, how are we in this together? We pick each other up, we encourage each other in making those steps, we count on one another when we can’t move forward without help. I learned the same thing that Michael Moore learned in my high school choir class. “Sometimes in band or choir, the music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they can actually hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant....So let’s remember the lesson of music: Take a breath. The rest of the choir will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, very beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.”

You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song.

One of the pieces in our gray hymnal is from Edward Everett Hale, who notes: “I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything. But still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

This month, as we live our lives of perseverance, may we keep on doing the something we can do. And when we can’t, may we know that there are hands to help us along the way. Together we make a very long, very beautiful song that will carry us forward.