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If Not Now, When?

By Teri Rizvi

(Editor's Note: This is the prelude from One Heart with Courage: Essays and Stories (Braughler Books, 2021) by Teri Rizvi. Illustrations by Julie Lonneman. Edited by Julie Fanselow.)

Soon after 2020 dawned, but before the pandemic took hold, I embarked on what Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls “creative recovery.” 

I began jotting stream-of-consciousness thoughts in longhand. Not every day. And these short essays were not always very good. That’s not the point. The point was to write, to break through whatever was stopping me from creating — whether it was procrastination, fear or laziness.

When all of our lives dramatically changed with the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, I revisited my journal. The opening entry suddenly held more meaning. 

To be able to stop time, to freeze moments, what a gift that would be. But as the years race by, the inevitable truths emerge in indelible ink, like “your permanent record” we joke about. Here’s what I know now to be true:

So much of life is out of your control. A driver who swerves in front of you. The health scare of a bad mammogram. The unkindness of others. A tornado that uproots trees and lives.

When you feel a lilt in your heart, savor that pure moment of happiness. A connection, a deeply human connection with another person, is magical — and perhaps the best gift life can ever bring. True friendships buoy the spirit and are worth more than anything you can buy. Friendship is priceless. It’s to be cherished.

Still, people will alternately fill your heart and break it. The only person you can change is yourself. Accept that. 

Life is for living — and every day is a gift. We all need a support system. We are deeply flawed people, living with new hope every day.

Children are spontaneous, not afraid to take risks. They ask you to push them higher and higher on a swing, never afraid of tumbling out. With age, we lose our courage, and it’s a quest to regain part of whatever made us feel carefree. There’s a time to be practical, and a time to throw reason to the wind. The trick is to instinctively know the difference. 

When you ask for help, the universe answers. There is a God. Prayers, deeply expressed, help us through the unknown.

Rereading what I had written just months before, I felt thankful that I’d had no idea what 2020 held in store. Who could foresee an extended lockdown that changed our work lives, the crippling fear following a coronavirus diagnosis for a loved one, or a year of political unrest and racial reckoning?

COVID-19 hit home when my husband, Zafar, fought off a mild case. Two tests came back negative for me, yet I battled a mysterious high fever for six days. While I had often thought about compiling my writings for a book, I could never find the time. But as the months of pandemic life stretched toward a year, I thought, If not now, when?

At the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which I founded in 2000, we encourage writers to quit procrastinating. The three words Erma heard from an English professor on campus is our mantra: “You can write!”

I realized it was time to take those words to heart, with courage. I hope you enjoy these stories and reflections — and find the courage to say “Yes!” to the dreams written on your heart. 

Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications. Her debut book, One Heart with Courage (Braughler Books, 2021) will be published Oct. 1. Her essay “As Screens Come Up, Walls Come Down” will appear in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times Won’t Last But Tough People Will in November. Another essay, “Living in the Moment,” will appear in Fast Fierce Women (Woodhall Press, 2022).

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