“Elizabeth Smart is a flat out bad ass” I thought, looking out over the crowd of women I fit in distressingly well with. Hundreds of “ladies who lunch”. Invited to a fund raiser for a girls group home. Elizabeth at the podium being inspirational while telling as little of her story as possible. Something I admired and understood. She described herself pre-kidnapping as a “wallflower” and “beyond painfully shy”. For the most extroverted of us, having the world voyeuristically invested in your abduction, torture and rape would be ugly.
It’s incredible where you can find bad assness. This benign looking young woman drenched in it. A girl that frankly, without her kidnapping, and in her own words would be “just another blonde girl from Utah”. Someone your eyes would slide by on their way to shinier more interesting targets.
I kept thinking about how I’d see Elizabeth if I didn’t know her story. How I might tell someone “I met the sweetest kid today”. People watching at the mall I’d dismiss her as a “wallflower”. Her shoulders are slightly rounded in and her face a bit flushed, she doesn’t look quite comfortable. She seems an introverted even frightened girl. Sitting at a table of people, if she stood out, that’s what she’d stand out for.
When in fact she’s a bad ass. A David kills Goliath kind of bad ass. An “I eat navy seals and NFL linebackers for breakfast” kind of badass. She’s a real hero that mostly matters just to women. It’s the way we define tough in this country that puts Elizabeth Smart on the speaking circuit for women’s and children’s issues. While someone like Ray Lewis, an ex NFL something or other, will be sought out by corporations, politicians, government agencies, and likely even some women’s and children’s organizations. He'll command much larger fees than Elizabeth’s. He’ll be a highly sought out motivational speaker because he played football. Because he was good at football. Football (sigh).
Would he have cried hysterically and begged for his mother if someone (bigger, stronger, and meaner than him) woke him up in the middle of the night with a knife to his neck, drug him to a remote mountain top, chained him like a dog and repeatedly raped him. Keeping him, in Elizabeth’s words “as an object. Not even a pet”. There for him to “do whatever he wanted with. To be a permanent audience when he wanted to talk” and a physical object when he didn’t.
The kind of tough men we glorify in sports and television, men like Ray Lewis who may have killed a man in real life and can beat them on a football field. And Jax Teller from the TV show Sons of Anarchy. Jax whose biker gang character runs hookers and films porn. Jax who beat up his ex-girlfriend in order to gain custody of his son. Men who carry guns and get in fights and pick fights on sports fields. We think they’re tough.
Those men have nothing on Elizabeth Smart. Who literally walked through the valley of death and came out a gracious, loving, and optimistic human being trying to make the world a better place. Elizabeth Smart who understands that “everyone has a story and a struggle but everyone’s struggle is different”. Whose hope for the abused and neglected girls she’s championing is that they “understand nothing in their past can cheat them of their value as human beings”.
In this video of Ray Lewis, giving a motivational speech for a group of young athletes at Stanford University, he asks “If tomorrow wasn’t’ promised what would you give for today?”
It’s a good question. And one that Elizabeth Smart can answer. At 14 years old, that little girl spent every day thinking tomorrow might not come. But Ray Lewis faced down big mean football players while making millions of dollars to do it. He's a bad ass.
I’m amusing myself with the pictures in my head of Elizabeth Smart walking into that locker room in Stanford, asking the question “If tomorrow wasn’t promised what would you give for today”. The looks on the boy's faces that say “who the hell is this? Joe… who IS this? Ummmm coach the social work departments speaker got lost”.
They don’t know for tough.