brave (brāv) adj. 1. Possessing or displaying courage; valiant.
Several weeks ago, my now 27 year-old son called from his home in Manhattan, Kansas early one Saturday morning “just to say hi.” As is his custom, Greg began the conversation by simply asking “what I was up to.” “Nothing really,” I replied, somewhat matter-of-factly, “I was just finishing up a tweet to Miss Georgia.” I’m not sure which (or what combination) of those 12 words sucked the air out of Greg’s lungs, but it was clear they did from the stunned silence on the other end of the phone! Maybe it was: the idea of his technologically-challenged, 54 year-old dad having a Twitter account, the fact that I actually knew what to do with it or the thought of me actually using it to “tweet” with Miss Georgia. Truth is: If you had told me a year ago that, by the summer of 2013, I would be on Twitter, have two Facebook pages and be 220+ posts into a blog, I likely would have reacted the same way – as if you had a third eye in the middle of your forehead. You see, I always harbored a fair amount of skepticism when it came to all things “social media” and, believe me, it has its shortcomings. But, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that it also has its advantages, not the least of which is that, on occasion, it offers a “front row seat” to extraordinary acts of personal bravery.
Such was the case that Saturday, when, shortly after my morning walk, I logged on to my Twitter account and saw a tweet that Kirsten Haglund (http://tinyurl.com/oovhuhh) had sent a few days earlier thanking the reigning Miss Georgia, Leighton Jordan, a stranger to me at the time, “for speaking the truth with grace and dignity” about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia. I quickly accessed the link Kirsten provided to WSBTV2, the Atlanta T.V. station that “broke” the story and was moved not only by Leighton’s poise and candor in sharing her “secret,” but by her willingness to be so transparent on such a deeply personal issue. I also was struck by two statements that the reporter uttered – almost in the same breath: “the National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 1 million people a year die from eating disorders, more than breast cancer” and “Jordan is very aware of the negative stigma that can be attached to eating disorders and she expects backlash for sharing her secret.” Imagine laying your soul bare for all the world to see for purely altruistic reasons (i.e., to shed light on a burgeoning, life-threatening epidemic that is now reaching into our elementary schools) only to then live in fear of how others might react to your honesty.
Fortunately (for all of us), Leighton didn’t allow that fear to overcome her desire to “live out loud” (http://tinyurl.com/bebnzwa) and, having since spent some time learning more about her (http://www.missga2012.blogspot.com) – something I would encourage you to do if you can find a spare moment – I’ve begun to understand why. Among other things, Leighton is a young woman grounded in faith. Perhaps because of that faith and her life experiences (which include: her being forced to “let go” of her dream of one day becoming a professional ballerina after a series of major surgeries on both ankles; watching an older sibling struggle with his own health issues (e.g., deafness, cerebral palsy and epilepsy); and seeing the fallout caused by others’ insensitivity and ignorance towards him), Leighton came to understand, at a very young age, what too many of us tend to lose sight of too often, namely that, contrary to popular belief, this Life thing is not all about the “me” – it’s about the “us” and, more specifically, our willingness to give of ourselves to others. How do I know Leighton “gets it”? Her selfless and courageous decision to “come out” about her eating disorder is a fairly compelling indicator, as is her dedication to the Sibling Support Project (http://siblingsupport.org).
Leighton recently took the time to reflect on her year as Miss Georgia, a reign that will be coming to an end in a matter of days. In recounting the “Most Memorable Thing Someone Said To Her,” Leighton recalled a little girl who came up to her after she’d opened up about battling eating disorders. “I’ve watched you all day [Ms. Jordan],” the little girl began, “and thought I could never be Miss Georgia because I’m not perfect. But now, knowing you aren’t perfect, I know I don’t have to be perfect to inspire others like you have inspired me.” Leighton would go on to say, “that moment changed my life.” Of course, that moment would not have been possible, either for that little girl (and likely thousands of others like her) or for Leighton without Leighton’s profound act of bravery. I don’t think people fully appreciate how much courage it takes to be vulnerable even in a one-on-one relationship, let alone as a “public figure” for all the world to see. I have Twitter to thank for meeting this remarkable young woman – and so it seemed only fitting that I use that same medium to thank her, which I did that Saturday morning: “You rock @Leightonjordan! Your courage and ‘voice’ will change lives. Great admiration and eternal gratitude.” I only hope others will be inspired to do the same!