Kathy LeMay on Regenerating Courage as a Social Change Agent

Kathy LeMay, President and CEO, Raising Change, LLC, and Interim Executive Director, Women Moving Millions

Two themes are popping up more frequently these days in the gender equality sphere: fearlessness and rage. We’re going to explore both of these themes more here at Philanthropy Women in the coming weeks and months. Tomorrow, I will be interviewing Jean Case, Co-Founder of the Case Foundation and author of the forthcoming title, Be Fearless. Later in October, I’ll be attending a reading and book signing for Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: the Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, and will be writing more about her work.

But today, on the subject of fearlessness, I want to share a piece written by Kathy LeMay, who is serving as Interim Executive Director for Women Moving Millions. LeMay read this piece at the Women Moving Millions Summit, and I can imagine how it helped to establish a unique tone for the event. Very few people have the courage to admit their vulnerability the way Kathy LeMay does, and admitting this kind of vulnerability is a big part of being a feminist in my mind, because it’s about including all parts of yourself in the conversation of change, including the vulnerable and wounded parts.

Finding My Quiet Courage by Kathy LeMay

A week ago this morning, I woke up and I couldn’t quite breathe. My breath was shallow and thin. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t have a summer cold. But I couldn’t fully breathe. My chest felt as though it had been filled with weighted, wet cement. I wasn’t surprised. The signs and indicators had been there for months. I thought I had outrun them. How about the hubris of imagining you can outrun loss and grief? I held court, convinced I outmaneuvered, outwitted, and dodged pain. I even smiled one day thinking that I had successfully sidestepped compounded losses. I knew. Of course, I knew. Yet, lying there on my bed not able to move my body or limbs, my mind which had so often been my source of liberation, fought the grief that had arrived at my doorstep and let itself in.

“Wait,” I thought, “I’ve always been strong, capable, competent. Shouldn’t that protect me from despair? I’ve built a full, productive, purposeful life. Wasn’t that enough?” I laid there trying to find a deeper breath, trying to find my resilience, trying to locate my courage. “Get up, Kath.” I couldn’t. The only thing I could feel was relentless surges of loss. I felt angry at myself, at what I perceived to be a petulant self-indulgence. I didn’t want to feel what I knew it was time to feel. Running through my head were the words of Joan Didion, “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” I was also thinking of C.S. Lewis, who wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

Quietly inside my mind I whispered words I don’t remember having said before in my life: “I am scared.” This doesn’t mean I haven’t felt scared. I have. The only difference was on this steaming hot August morning I admitted it to myself, for the first time. Quietly, then aloud. Saying those words, in that moment I thought I had lost my courage. I didn’t realize that by admitting that I felt broken, I had finally found it. […] Read more here.

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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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