January 13, 2012 § 6 Comments
You have it.
I have it.
Maybe not the step-in-front-of-a-stranger-and-take-the-bullet kind; courage can be modest and expended for causes much less worthy.
The first person we prove our courage to is ourselves–followed closely by our friends.
That show-off courage makes us jump off the high dive, a bravery that only has to last a nanosecond. Gravity does the rest.
Physical courage is almost always an exercise of youth testing the limits of that way-cool body they’ve been given. “Hey, let’s just see what this baby can do!” The reckless use of equipment that might be needed later (knee joints, spines) doesn’t much concern the young.
But the young are not always the ones who challenge themselves to show physical courage. For a person who has centered their courage in physical prowess it is hard to let go.
Diana Nayad, now 62, plans to make another attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. Because marathons are based on discipline, strategy, and breath, they are an old person’s game she says. Her careful breathing has been stopped by stinging jellyfish on past attempts. Still, she plans to try again.
We, who have also left the quick-sprint time of life will cheer her, and secretly wonder if she needs to test her courage elsewhere. After all, courage provides an array of tests some of which actually favor the old.
Courage that benefits self also goes by the name of confidence. Confidence allows us to sing in public or walk into the boss’s office and demand a raise. It is not necessarily realistic. Maybe we don’t deserve that raise, maybe we sing off-key, but without confidence we will never know.
The phrase, “the courage of your convictions” names a courage drawn from the profound belief that something larger than self is worth taking a risk for.
Arm in arm, emboldened by the rightness of their cause, civil rights protesters sang “we shall overcome.” And for their belief they were hosed, tear-gassed, jailed, lynched and murdered.
Individuals died for the cause, but their conviction lived on. Their collective courage overcame.
Without a committment to something outside ourselves we tend to become complacent, easily led, selfish, small.
Me, I believe in kids, so I open my house (turned library) for the kids in my neighborhood every Sunday. This may not sound like a courageous act and compared to the courage of a Dr. King it’s small-potatoes, but it’s courage nonetheless. What if a child gets hurt and I get sued and lose the house? What if I learn something about the family life of one of these children and have to call Child Protective Services? What if? What if?
The more we open ourselves to the needs and lives of those around us the more vulnerable we become.
Faithfulness and repetition are the hallmarks of a type of courage many of us don’t even honor with that name. If you’re caring for a sick parent, bringing food to a neighbor who is out of work, raising a child who is not your own you are courageous. Weary and often disheartened, you do it day after day after day. The quick act of bravery looks easy in comparison.
Most of us will never be given that step-into-the-path-of-a-bullet test of courage. But our lives administer more ordinary tests every day—and no one passes them all. The driver who treats the ragged man with the cardboard sign as if he were invisible may be the same guy who volunteers for Hospice.
Some of us have a lot of courage, some just a little . Don’t underestimate what can be done, even with just a little. Mighty Mouse was a superhero—but he was also a mouse.
Courage, like the loose change in your pocket, travels with you. It’s yours to hoard or spend.
Go on, spend it.
Note: Okay, I know that Mighty Mouse isn’t real, but the fact that his creator, Paul Terry, chose a mouse is interesting. How can you beat a mouse if you want an underdog hero? Actually, Mighty Mouse started his superhero journey as a fly…but that’s another story.