Greta Gerwig

Women catch courage from the women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend. –Carolyn Heilbrun

I.

On a blistering August day in 1989, my boyfriend, Adrian, and I were trudging up 123rd Street on our way to his dorm, and I was lagging behind. He always seemed to be several steps ahead of me, which wasn’t surprising, since I was barely five feet tall, and he was close to six. But he felt that I should have walked faster, and he diagnosed the problem as hesitation, fear. (He studied the existentialist theologian Paul Tillich, who wrote a book called The Courage to Be.) Whenever he noticed me falling behind, he made this observation: “You fear to step.” It made me laugh, and also caused, as he seemed to intend, a stab of shame about the pervasive anxiety that in fact kept me from moving forward. “You fear to step,” he announced, as we sweated up the hill, and I protested that my feet hurt because I wasn’t wearing any socks. I began to compose a mantra of my own inadequacy: