There’s an overused quote (well, let’s call it a quote particle, since like many other quotes it is rarely used in full context). You’ve probably seen it on t-shirts and Facebook pages and inspirational Instagram posts:
“…and though she be but little, she is fierce.”
[[Yes, the nerd in me – the scholar that I imagine I am – the bookworm who spent a few months in college – does get annoyed when people say things without truly understanding them. When quotes are pulled from the sky without any kind of appreciation for the words that encapsulate them. When some of history’s most talented authors are reduced to snappy pink lettering in a mere 1080 pixels by people who may never discover the masterful works they belong to.
This misused morsel of verse currently making the rounds as a girl power anthem is actually part of a comedy by William Shakespeare called A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It isn’t as much a statement on a woman’s strength as it is an insult to a certain character’s (Hermia) diminutive size. Her sister describes her as a vixen (a hellcat) in their school years. She is a hot head. A brawler.
Once insulted, she objects to being called “little” or “tiny” and is subsequently referred to as a “dwarf” and a “minimus of hindering knotgrass (a weed)”. A bead. An acorn.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but that’s certainly not how this powerful woman would like to be described.
For the purposes of this blog, though, I am willing to put all that aside, so please keep reading…]]
I took a gentle vinyasa yoga class this morning and enjoyed it immensely. It’s a class unlike most of the others I take at the gym, because instead of intense exercise and lots of sweat, vinyasa is more about finding my center, focusing, and learning to balance. It’s a class I deeply appreciate because all my other classes are pretty brutal, and it gives me a chance to re-connect with my body and check in with myself while still working my muscles. It’s a challenging class, too, because while the other classes concentrate on strength and agility, gentle vinyasa is all about the core – the part that keeps me stable and holds me up when things get hard.
What makes a person fierce?
As I squeezed my eyes shut tight in some desperate attempt to concentrate and steady myself in Half Moon Pose, I thought about the importance of repose, especially in the midst of struggle. Gentleness as essential for fighting. Peace as a means to win wars. The ability to stop and re-center, to take inventory and in order to prepare for what lies ahead and recover from what has already been accomplished.
Warriors have that. Leaders have that.
I talk a lot about having the heart of a lion, or the raging fire that burns inside me and drives me forward, but so seldom do I mention the stillness. The wise man. He is not the thunderous voice that yells at me to keep fighting. He is the low, barely detectable whisper that summons my spirit to simply continue living. He is my perseverance. Perhaps surprisingly, he is the most important part of my inner workings. Every day I seek him out – whether to read a book, to take a walk, to sit with myself and take deep breaths – I know that I need him if I am to continue to conquer and reach my goals.
Reflecting on some conversations I’ve had this week, I keep coming back to this quote.
…and though she be but little, she is fierce.
Little and fierce. Yes, I am. Have I always been fierce? Undoubtedly. Both of my parents tell stories of my defiant nature, my strong will, my refusal to accept that something is true just because someone else says so. Is fierce something I became after years of feeling underestimated and discounted because of my size, or my lack of experience, or my gender? Yes, absolutely. I know what it’s like to be underestimated, ignored, dismissed. The truth, then, is both – my fierce is a healthy mix of nature and nurture.
Similarly, three-year-old son is a bear to deal with sometimes and I honestly think part of his rage stems from being the smallest in the family. He wants so much to be big like his brother and he just isn’t yet – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable, or smart, or brave, and he will make damn sure you don’t forget it. He is wild, and loud, and so very confident. He’s got a walk that’s so self-assured most grown men would be envious. He has much to prove and yet he does not want your approval.
The other side of that coin, the side that few people get to see, is the sweet and curious boy who seeks out his mommy at night in order to climb into her lap and sit. He doesn’t want anything else – just to be still, together. Gentle and quiet and safe, he snuggles up against me to be reminded that he is protected, and to rest before the next day of wrestling giants begins. As is true with all the world-changers that have gone before him, he needs a time of respite and a place to feel grounded in order to find his fearlessness.
I believe this is a common thread woven in the stories of history’s overcomers. The one quality that separates losers from victors. Stillness. Perseverance. A willingness – a compulsion, even – to come back to ourselves, to re-align and re-group. To “huddle up”, as my dad says. This is the calm, stable part that holds us up when things get hard. The well from which courage is drawn. It is almost indescribable to those who do not know it, and invaluable to those who do.
Fierceness is about so much more than fighting, and size is irrelevant to heart. It has nothing to do with being combative or loud and everything to do with quiet stillness. It is not the obvious drawing of a sword on the battlefield. It is in the moments we don’t talk about enough – the in-between times when we reflect on how far we’ve come and steel ourselves for what is next. It is in the ability to pause, reflect, balance, breathe, and focus.
In life, as in vinyasa, it is not the arms or the legs that keep me balanced, but the core. My inner workings, where sits a small whispering voice that beckons me onward, even on the toughest of days. Fierceness is born in the moments of quiet determination and reflection. It is not the roar of the lion or the lap of the wildfire flames that make a great warrior, but the less obvious, less celebrated, sheer will to remain steady and to keep moving forward.
…and though I be but little, I. AM. FIERCE.