I've spent some time pondering how to begin this piece. Nancy Mace has been in the public eye for a long time, her achievements are well known and incredibly impactful. As the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, and actively participate in forging a new era for that institution, she is an inspiration to many. I used to give her book to my troops in the military, with women and men alike as an example of strength and courage in the face of the world. When everything seeks to grind you down, her story was my example for how to stand tall. It inspired me, my troops and many others. (Nine of my copies have walked off in the hands of others. I am on my tenth.) She is an accomplished businesswoman, a leader, a Representative in the SC State Legislature, a mother, a daughter and so many other hats to wear. Some of them you nor I will ever see, and yet we live in an age where we seek to draw caricatures of the people we see in public, to define and judge them from afar.
I don't want to tell you about Nancy the Representative, nor of Nancy the first woman to graduate The Citadel. There is already so much written about those roles that I don't know how much I can contribute to them. Some of those narratives are truly powerful (you should read In the Company of Men if you haven't already). Others are not worth the time and have been granted too much by me in this one sentence already. No, my words about Nancy come from our moments over coffee this morning, from my eyes and how I saw her sitting across the table. They are what I know and what I can write about.
I will confess some nerves around reaching out to Nancy to be part of this story. I have admired her for decades, she has been an inspiration and an influence on me. So often we are nervous when reaching out to those people, worried that they may not accept us or, even worse, that they cannot live up to the legends we have built in our minds. Mine was the former, fear that I would not be worth the time. It would be understandable, she is remarkably busy, but I went ahead and sent her the link to the project, asking if she would like to be a part of it. I have never been more excited to be mistaken. She carved out some time to sit and talk for a moment, genuinely interested and excited about the project.
Sitting across from her, it is impossible not to notice the electricity that comes off of her, this present strength and tenacity. Nancy is a woman who has been down many roads and knows what she can do, what she believes and how hard she can fight. She is not daunting, but rather calm and welcoming, attentive to the conversation and fully present for the brief time we have. I tell her about the influence she had on me, how her story helped my troops learn to lead, to endure. You can see her appreciation, she is grateful she can inspire, but also the gleam in her eye showing you that she has not built herself to be legend, but to be a person, to succeed as Nancy.
Nancy is authentic. Her beliefs, her actions, her thoughts and her words are her own. She is open, she shares the good and the bad. I am very fond of her after only a few moments. Integrity and authenticity are things I treasure in people. Nancy has rivers of both traits. Every smile, chuckle, laugh and word just is. For her this is how the world should be, but also something we struggle with. We are so tired of people who are not what they say they are, worn out by the endless stream of people who are little more than empty suits and name tags. Nancy reminds me of so many amazing women I have known in my life; of Kim, Tex, Rovanne, Kellie and so many others, each unique in their strength.
Nancy Mace, the Nancy sitting across from me, is a reminder of bravery and strength. A reminder that Superman is not brave, he is invincible. He is moral, decent, even handsome, but you can't be brave if you can't be hurt. The truly brave are the people who get up day after day, with the endless struggles of everyday life and rise above it. Nancy is not a superhero, she is much more. She is brave, she is strong and she is human, a reminder of what we can all be when we are brave. Our time quickly comes to an end, and I hope to find more time with this incredible person, but I am grateful for the moment to see her, across a table, as a person, not just a story. They say you shouldn't meet the people you admire, they will disappoint you. They are wrong.
Sitting here writing, I think of what I can say about this incredible woman I have shared a coffee with. It hits me as simply and powerfully as a thunderbolt on a summer's night.
Nancy Mace is not Superman, she is Nancy, and that is so much more.
Favorite Dinosaur: T-Rex
Why: Aggressive and goes for what it wants.