Bells and echoes.

The church bell rings every fifteen minutes here, a tradition carried on from the time of no watches or cell phones to check the time. It rings out and echoes into the quietly busy city, the sound waves rushing along cobblestones and bouncing off stucco buildings.

Do words ever ring like that for you? Bouncing through the synapses in your brain, thunking against one side of your skull and then the other?

I didn’t volunteer to read much in my creative writing class this past semester because I didn’t know how to share something I wasn’t sure was good – not just good but good in a new and exciting way. The whole semester was a struggle against self-doubt, an attempt to muster the confidence I’d felt at some point in my life… when was that? what did it feel like?

But there are words that ring in my ears to combat the doubts.

I sat in class like every other day, not volunteering to read what I’d just scrawled out in the five minutes we were given for an exercise. My professor asked for volunteers as always, only picking people if no one offered. I made unfortunate eye contact with her at that moment – only unfortunate because everyone knows if you make eye contact when the professor is  asking for volunteers, you’ve just volunteered.

“Ashley, will you read yours?”

“Oh, did I just volunteer myself?” slight laugh, slight blush, stirring in my seat to pick up my piece of paper sheepishly and read what I’d written.

“No… I just know you’re a woman of courage.” She said it like she was sure, with a friendly expression that almost put me to shame for not wanting to volunteer in the first place. Maybe it was she who had the courage.

I don’t remember what I read or what the reaction was (but it wasn’t tomato throwing or intense booing, which is always an encouragement), but I remember those words.

They echoed in my head.

On days where I didn’t think I could get up because getting up meant living and walking and moving and talking… and feeling. On days where my breathing is constricted and there’s something sitting on my heart that makes it beat more frantically. On days where newness causes wide eyes and frozen facial features and tight abdominal muscles.

I hear that over and over woman of courage… You’re a woman of courage. I know you’re a woman of courage. I know you’re a woman of courage.

I’m sure she has no idea how those words have buoyed me, how they’ve bounced around in my brain, reminding me of something I’m not always convinced of. Perhaps, in this case, someone else believing it (or saying they do) and hearing it over and over again has made it true of me. Perhaps, in this case, I have been courageous because someone told me I already was.

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