40 Days Later: from optimism to strength

Forty days ago I started my Savannah Smiles Challenge in an effort to bring more optimism to my day-to-day life, my attitude and my spirit. It’s a good thing I did, too, because I got some bad news today, and I’ve had to turn all that optimism into strength.

Several months before I started the Challenge, I had begun to tackle another feat, a scholarship application for an award that would have provided $30,000 toward a master’s degree and connected me to change agents in multiple fields worldwide.

I am proud to say that I made it to the semi-finalist round. The next round, however, wasn’t meant to be.

How fitting, I thought, that I would read a rejection email on the final day of my Savannah Smiles Challenge. Apparently, I have been nurturing all that positivity for a reason.

As I’ve said again and again, I believe we must be the makers of our own happiness. We can’t expect positive energy to illuminate our lives if we don’t actively strive to cultivate that energy within ourselves and others. Well, I believe the same is true of strength. We must always do our best to choose strength over weakness, to take a step forward instead of a step back. Of course it isn’t always easy, or even possible, to immediately stand up after a fall. But if we resign ourselves to lying defeated on the ground after every slip, resignation will become the norm and resilience will disappear into obscurity. Weakness must be the exception, or else it will only be harder to summon our inner strength when we truly need it. There are far worse things than not getting some big-deal scholarship, Savannah. Suck it up.

I can’t help but feel the 39 days I spent doing sun salutations, journaling and reading poetry were all in preparation for today, the 40th day. Disappointment almost kept me from going to my yoga class this morning, but after greeting (almost) every day with yoga these past few weeks, I knew that single hour would help me heal.

I walked into class late, feeling heavy. After sun salutations and leg exercises,  my instructor said it was time to go into our headstands. I collapsed into child’s pose. Tears started to pool in my eyes. “No,” I whispered to myself, “not today.”

But against my own will I prepared myself for the pose. I placed my head between hands and began inching my feet toward my torso. Then, for the first time in my life, I lifted myself into the half-posture—meaning my legs were folded next to my stomach, with only my head and my elbows supporting my body—and stayed there. Normally, I get to this point and immediately fall over. But this time, I remained balanced on my head, looking at the world upside down. Those jerks can reject me, but I bet they can’t do a fucking headstand.

Overall, I’d call the Savannah Smiles Challenge a great success. I have started journaling almost every day, and sun salutations come second only to my morning coffee. I’ve also started reading some of my poetry and listening to others at SpokenWord Paris, an open mic poetry sesh that goes down every Monday night.

What’s more important, however, is that I learned, once again, that I have a plentitude of people and things to be grateful for and to find happiness in. My gifts, my opportunities and my experiences make my life unique, vibrant and beautiful. My friends, my family and my mentors—all of you bring such joy to my heart and make every day worth living. If I ever again feel my optimism fleeting, as I’m sure time and trial will cause it to do, I will only need to look back on these past 40 days and remember what I learned from daring myself to smile.

I may have listened to this song 20 times within the past three hours.

I don’t care. I love it.

—Savannah

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