Ask a Badass is an advice column answered by history’s hidden badasses, writing as they see their whole lives and our modern world.
I used to feel like a badass. Now I feel broken and empty. My parents died in 2019, first my Mom, then my Dad a few months after. Mom’s was expected but still hard. My Dad’s came out of nowhere. My relationship was on the rocks before, and he left as soon as he decently could. And then two years of a pandemic that half the country is fighting by denying it exists. And the Supreme Court. And, and, and… I keep playing the song “I Am Gonna Make It Through This Year”, but it’s been three years now. How do I make it through another one?
I am so sorry for your many losses. That you feel beaten down by this is not a measure of being weak, but of being human. Please seek help from someone with experience in recovering from grief. For me, it was my confessor. I could go to him to speak my pain and rage. I said to him the ugliest things – things I would never admit to anyone else. If you don’t have a confessor you trust, please seek out a therapist or a grief counseling group. A badass doesn’t limp around on a broken leg but makes sure she heals to fight again. You need to give yourself time to heal – and not make your wounds worse by judging yourself for needing healing.
I was born the daughter of the king of Thuringia. My entire family was killed, and my country was conquered by the Frankish king, Clothair. He “married” me to keep me as a hostage against my people and my only surviving brother. It was not until my brother was dead and my people well and truly pacified that he let me retire to a nunnery. A Frankish nunnery where he could still keep an eye on me. I survived him and helped the women married to his sons achieve some sort of freedom. It was an echo of what I’d been born into.
I was raised surrounded by family and clan. I was raised to be the partner and helpmeet of a leader. Nothing in my upbringing or experience prepared me to be totally alone, surrounded by my enemies. All of the privileges I was born with were stripped down to what I carried inside my spirit. I wrote. I wrote passionate letters to anyone I thought would be sympathetic, telling them vividly of my plight and that of my people. Some might call them poetry, but it was poetry with a purpose. I had only my voice against the military might of the Frankish king, but I used it. I even wrote a letter to my brother, though I knew he was forever lost to me. I poured all the pain of our family into fragile parchment, but somehow it survived. Clothair’s kingdom is dust, but my words still ring out.
I can tell you of a rebellion I inspired, of the hagiographies written about me, of the churches dedicated to me, and of Jesus College in Cambridge of which I am a patron saint. But all of that came after my darkest time. What I want you to know is what I discovered: even if everything is stripped away and all you have left is yourself, you are powerful beyond measure. You will make it through this year and all the years to come. If all you have left is your voice, let it ring with the sheer weight of your experience. You will be heard, and the world will shift, even if you never see the movement.
Radegund of Thuringia
Born around 520 CE in Thuringia, in what is now Germany. Died in 587 CE at the convent she founded in Poitiers, in what is now France. Radegund and her brother were children when the King Clothair of the Franks conquered Thuringia. (The present German state of Thuringia was reconstituted under the Weimar Republic.) He forced Radegund to marry him and when he later killed her brother because he was the last surviving man of the Thuringian royal line, she fled to the protection of the Church. She became respected and loved throughout the Church’s network, writing letters that went all over the known world. She also helped a generation of Frankish women fighting for power over a territory that includes the modern-day Netherlands.
To read a beautiful letter Radegund wrote about her life, check out Epistolae.
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