Friday, October 19, 2018

Being Brave

I spent a semester in the UofA's Humanities Seminars discussing the concepts of bravery and courage.  Is one external and one internal?  Is one judged by others and the other judged by your psyche?  Does physical peril have to be involved?  Does near-certain death factor in?  How about the timing?  If it falls in your lap are you brave if you deal with it?  Does choice have a place in the equation?

We read The Song of Roland; was he brave or courageous or foolhardy to blow his horn and bring down the wrath of the attackers?  We read Beowolf.  Is it admirable to eat your foes?

The dictionary isn't much help in picking apart the distinctions.  Merriam-Webster calls it the ability to do something that frightens one.  Wikipedia, the people's collective hive mind,  says it's the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.

Then what's brave?  The Google search starts with the movie, but goes on to trip over itself:  Brave is ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

I really hate it when a definition uses the word I'm looking up as a descriptor of itself.  

So, when Little Cuter asked me to write about one of the bravest things I've ever done, I was already on the case.  Bravery or courage, the distinction isn't that important when it comes to facing terror in the real world.  I'm much happier facing it in front of the dictionary.

I don't know if I was brave or courageous when I was perforated.  My memory is sketchy about the details.  I know that people thought I was brave and courageous in the aftermath, but I never agreed with their assessment.  Getting out of bed and into the world was going to happen; I was shot but I wasn't a different person.  Intersecting with the real world or pulling a blanket over my head and retreating - there wasn't much of a choice.

But the first time I went out to lunch, sitting in Miss Margaret's car, a skinny white boy in a hoodie crossed in front of us as we waited for the light to change.  I shook, I quivered, I moaned.  I was terrified.  But , NO!, I did not want to go home.  I was ready to face danger, I was showing courage, even though I didn't feel very brave at all.  Had he turned and met my gaze, I think I would have shattered into a million pieces.

Am I brave or courageous when I go to a crowded movie theater, or an outdoor festival, or walk on the bike path without a friend?  Those things scare me, but life goes on and, I've decided, it takes me with it.  

I was braver when I went to Chicago for graduate school, knowing no one but the college classmate who was living with her boyfriend. I cried. . I was alone in a strange city, living in a studio apartment with four locks on the door.  The neighborhood wasn't great, and I came and went at odd hours.   I binge read novels to keep my loneliness at bay.  Was that bravery or courage or just living the dream?  I was on the cusp of adulthood.  I had to soldier on.

It took courage to begin The Burrow, putting myself out in the world, without a filter.  

Deciding to become parents was a courageous move. TBG and I had a delightfully companionable marriage. We rarely argued, and if we disagreed we just avoided the topic.  On the major things, we were totally in sync.  Why would we screw that up?  Being pregnant felt courageous; my body was colonized by an alien being, totally out of my control.

I was a homesick kid, dreading sleeping over at a friend's house.  Was going away to Brownie Camp a courageous act?

I am a sensible person.  I am mindful in my old age in ways that I was not when I was young.  Just thinking about being brave or courageous makes me anxious.

1 comment:

  1. I think bravery is different for everyone. For some people, it's an act of bravery to get out of bed each day. For others, it's something else. |
    I have decided that every person who goes to physical therapy is brave just for showing up. In this case it's realizing that the status quo won't cut it and knowing that we have to move beyond our comfort zone to improve. And to keep showing up, even when it's really hard.


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