Wave of Courage
I watch anxiously as my little ones climb onto the dock railing. Their knees trembling, hands clutching one another, they teeter way above the water, trying to garner the courage to jump. Nervous giggles and sharp squeals escape as they slowly yet eagerly count, “One, two, three…” Splash!
They did it; they faced their fear and took the big, wet leap into the river below. Watching from behind, I was equally afraid. Will they hit their heads on the dock; what if they slip; what if they forget to close their mouths as they scream their way into the water…what if?
But, as their Mom it’s my job to encourage them to face those fears and conquer them. My son brought home a wonderful book from the school library, the name of which has escaped me, but the moral of which rings strong and true. It depicted a fledgling, afraid to take flight and embarrassed because his brave sibling chicks had already spread their wings and soared. The wise daddy bird corrected his youngling, saying bravery is not shown when you accomplish something you are comfortable doing, but rather taking the risk at that which frightens you. So, while he was proud of his other chicks for flying, he knew that the real courage would be shown when this timid chick finally took flight.
We constantly cheer on the bravery of our youngsters as they attempt new skills and feats, facing their insecurities and the great unknowns of this world. This is an important and meaningful rite of growing up. However, it is easy to forget that we, the grown-ups, also fly the flag of bravery and often in quiet, unexpected, and really important ways. Lately, I have been struck by the courage that surrounds me.
For years, a loved one has been under the spell of alcohol and its false promise to quell hurt, loneliness, abandonment, and feelings of inadequacy. Finally, she put the bottle down for good. She chose to face her demons and tackle the task of actually living life without the fuzzy-numbing-buzz of alcohol. For the first time in a while, she had to look at, recognize, and accept who she is and who she has been for the past few years under the oppression of her addiction. This is the courage to accept yourself, faults, insecurities, failures, and love yourself anyway.
I’ve seen a friend come to terms with a relationship that was out of whack, stealing her joy and her true self. Despite the upheaval of her life as she knew it, and the temptation to return to the old norm, she held steady and in fact is forging ahead with independence and hope. This is the courage to unhinge the security and comfort of the familiar and put yourself first.
On the other hand, another friend saw her marriage as a rock around her neck, dooming her to a life of dreams unfulfilled and lost love. Through counseling, dedication, communication and a huge dose of reality she has turned her perspective around and is more in love with her husband than ever. This is the courage to face your fears head-on, put in the work, and admit you were wrong.
On the drive to school my 5-year-old daughter and her friend were talking about their show-and-tell items for the “M” theme. Neve pulled out her mermaid dolls: a Barbie and a Dora. Immediately, her friend asked, “You like Dora?” I could feel Neve’s embarrassment as she sought to explain that no, Dora was for babies, but this mermaid is cool because it lights up and spins its tail. ‘This is where it begins,’ I thought, ‘the mean-girl bullying and shaming over what you like, wear, or bring to school.’ To be fair, it wouldn’t have surprised me if it had been my daughter asking the question. I couldn’t resist the urge to speak up. I explained to the girls that they should never be afraid to love who or what they love. They should never make others feel badly for liking something different, and that being unique and having your own ideas and passions is what makes you fun, interesting, and you. I brought up the example of a darling, spunky little girl in their pre-K class, M. M loves dinosaurs and dragons unabashedly. They are her thing, what she is interested in, and her go-to toy and entertainment. Neve had a Rock Star birthday party to which the girls wore princess gowns and pop gear. Not M. She showed up in her dragon costume and rocked it. She is who she is and loves what she loves. I am still learning to strut my stuff the way that M does. Ah, the courage to own every last bit of who you are.
Too often a poor word choice can ruffle feathers, or an innocent act is taken in the wrong context resulting in hurt feelings or even worse, anger or disgust. Other times real wrongs and betrayals are perpetrated, sometimes with an apology, other times with denial or claims of ignorance. These interactions can create rifts, jar relationships, and even end them. Or, someone can show forgiveness, one of the most difficult examples of courage. We all make mistakes; we all stumble; we are all human. Too often we forget that carrying around the anger and despair of past injuries hurts us as much, if not more than it strikes others. The courage to forgive frees us all to accept and move on. Equally as important is the courage to be accountable for those slips we are bound to make. Swallowing the pill of responsibility is the only path to being rid of the guilt, shame, and self-criticism that comes with disappointing others. We have to stop needing to be right and strive to be understanding. This is the courage to be accountable and to forgive.
There are also those who heroically stand with their loved ones and fight discrimination or diseases, who say goodbye too soon or suddenly. There are those who move on after living through loss and tragedies. This is the courage of survival.
Many of us struggle to determine who we are meant to become, what we want to be when we grow up. Some of us know, but hold steady fearful of failure. And, there are others, who sing on YouTube, write that book, start their own business or tackle their secret ambition. These gutsy souls realize that it truly is now or never, and if they stumble or even fall flat at least they tried. This is the courage to live your dreams.
Then there’s the everyday courage we are all called to but that sometimes seems the most challenging: smiling and greeting others, helping strangers in need, accepting those who are different, setting a good example, choosing what is right over what is popular, selecting a leader for what he or she stands for instead of jumping on a bandwagon, avoiding gossip and insults, defending those unable to protect or speak for themselves, showing grace. This is everyday courage.
Courage is woven through the breaths and choices of our lives. It is defined in moments of grandeur and those that are common. It is choosing to be you, to be honest and compassionate. Courage is the power to forget about the expected and sink your teeth passionately into the right. Courage is standing for what’s just, even when it’s difficult. Courage is fully embracing life.
Let’s lead by an example of courage. Let’s also take the time to recognize and respect those who are courageous. Share your appreciation with them or share the stories of courage that have inspired or changed you here or on social media. #waveofcourage #leadbyexample