This month, I’m teaching Homer’s Odyssey for the last time in a great while. My freshmen know the Hero Journey, the Greek hospitality code of xenia, and the value of nostos (or homecoming), and are learning life lessons about survival and courage from the adventures of Odysseus, his son Telemachus, and his partner Penelope, each of whom references “the heart inside me” many times, a way of expressing their emotions, whether joy or sadness, nostalgia or fear. They also know the etymologies of the word “courage”–which derives from the French coeur, or “heart”–and of the word “survive”–which derives from the Latin supervivere, or “to live beyond.”
On Friday the 13th this month, I had the pleasure of attending the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women luncheon in the Grand Ballroom of The Pfister. You may know Go Red for Women from their iconic red dress logo. A red dress might seem a far cry from the Greek armor of an ancient epic hero fighting Laestrygonian cannibals, outwitting the fearsome Cyclops, or traversing the deadly Scylla and Charybdis, but maybe not: the red dress symbolizes the work the AHA is doing to educate women, raise awareness, and expand research into the leading killer of women in the country: heart disease. This afternoon, thanks to the enthusiastic leadership of director Laura Bolger, the Passion Committee, Little Hats, Big Hearts, and many others, the ballroom was a sea of red, a powerful image of solidarity and coeur.
Over a delicate chicken salad with black beans and tortilla strips, then over champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries up in Blu, I learned that “more than 2 million women have learned their personal risk of developing heart disease” and “more than 900,000 women have joined the fight” against a disease that even at the beginning of this century was often dismissed as an “old man’s disease.” I also learned how important knowing four little numbers is for preventing heart disease for women (and men): blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index. Every woman I spoke to–whether a heart disease survivor or someone with a family member who died of heart disease or someone who was there simply to support the effort–mentioned these all-important numbers.
Even the lyrics of the luncheon’s theme song, Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” was reminiscent of Odysseus’s tumultuous Mediterranean Sea adventure: “Like a small boat / on the ocean / sending big waves / into motion.” That’s exactly what Go Red for Women is: a small boat making waves. Waves of awareness, waves of positive goal-setting, waves of funds going to research (Go Red for Women Milwaukee raised $163,000 this year!). The keynote speaker, Sally Lou Loveman, added to the heroic tone of the luncheon when she said, “I believe in angels. I believe in signs, especially since we’re holding this event during National Women’s Health Week.” Loveman, a well-known former Audience Producer for Oprah and the founder of lovespeaks, brought to mind the good omens and prophecies of The Odyssey, the ones that let the characters know that the gods were on their side and that things were looking up. Loveman added, like Athena to Odysseus and Telemachus: “You showed up. In order to do the work we do, we have to just show up.” Be there. Get off your butt and do what you know you need to do. Have courage and survive. Platten’s lyrics affirmed this attitude (“This is my fight song / Take back my life song / Prove I’m alright song / My power’s turned on”) and Loveman reminded the hundreds of women in the room, many times, that our hearts are “the #1 tool” we use, that we need to “keep our hearts at full capacity,” that “the more we use our hearts, the more they charge.” The calling, then, for the heroes in the room, was to listen to the “hearts inside them” and to be heroes for themselves and others–and to re-charge their hearts and their lives every day.
I leave you, then, with 15 Simply (But Often Difficult) Courageous Goals for Charging Our Hearts, created by the guests at the recent Go Red for Women luncheon at the beautiful Pfister Hotel:
- I will make regular appointments with my physician.
- I will now the red flags and recognize them.
- I will know my exact numbers, so I can measure them and either maintain them or notice changes.
- I will schedule another stress test to monitor my levels.
- I will catch myself when I get stressed and find remedies.
- I will heighten awareness, one person or one small group at a time.
- I will lose more weight.
- I will instill in the rest of my family, including my husband and son, a mindset of healthy eating.
- I will make sure to cook the right food for me and my family.
- I will keep walking 35 minutes a day and 1 ½ hours on the weekend (the added benefit is I’ve gotten through six books already!).
- I will stay healthy and stay prepared because I know my family’s history.
- I will realize that heart disease can develop even at a young age.
- I will enjoy the little things, the ones I don’t always think about, the simple, happy moments.
- I will try to remember that I have a family that wants to have me around.
- I will be proactive rather than reactive!
#10 is brought to you by Lori Craig, a board member of the American Heart Association and a member of the Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Team. Here she is fulfilling her goal for the day with a brisk walk down the hall!