Saturday, June 6, 2015

If I Were King of the Forest

There's been a lot of talk in the media lately about courage and what that word actually means. When in doubt, I say, the bloggers and Tweeters and news outlets of the world should just consult the dictionary. One definition is simply "bravery," which just about covers all manner of courageous action the media worlds have been hurling at each other.

A discussion of courage is particularly meaningful today, as the 71st anniversary of D-Day. I always imagine those young men, sitting in airplanes and boats, waiting to jump into the air or slosh onto a beach and knowing full well that they or their buddies might not see the dawn of June 7. I wonder if they were terrified, or numb, or excited. I wonder if they thought about their mothers. I wonder if they realized the implications of their actions or were just trying to make it to the next minute.

That, I think we can agree, was courage. But what is significant about courage -- just like love and fear and sadness and joy -- is that it is largely in the eye of the beholder. We can debate endlessly about the courageousness of someone's actions, and whether one person is braver than the next. Yet I think it is far more important to consider what that courageous act meant to the person performing it.

From the outside, you could say that the scale is off, that some things aren't inspirational or note-worthy or impressive or world-changing, but each of us has our own understanding of what we fear and exactly what it takes to look that fear in the eye. Recently, I've been trying to pay attention to the courage around me, and once I began to actively notice, I saw it everywhere.

My first-grader pulled her own teeth. The thought makes me squirm a little, deliberately yanking on something attached (albeit just barely) to my body. But she closed the bathroom door, firmly rejected my offers of help, and pulled until it came out. She was glowing with pride when she emerged, tooth in hand, fear dissolving visibly in the air behind her. It may not seem like much, but she's only seven, and I sure don't think I could have done it.

My brother did stand-up comedy for the first time a few weeks ago. I watched the live feed on my phone and absolutely couldn't believe his courage. I've heard from other funny people that doing stand-up can be frightening, that you're putting your whole self out there to an audience that is inclined to be critical. He did his set, got some little laughs and some big laughs, and left the stage with what can only be described as a strut.

Courage can mean so many things, and I think we need to be careful not to dismiss someone's bravery, especially when we would consider the act at hand to be terribly easy or no big deal. We don't know what's in someone's heart and head. We don't know how long they had to self-talk, or how many times they got to the edge and had to back up again, or what kind of outside support they were getting. I'm certainly guilty of looking sideways at someone's bravery and need to be better at embracing their courage; if they say it took guts, then it did.

I did something recently that took a lot of courage, for me. Although I won't go into the details here, I can say that it was certainly nothing that will inspire world peace or clever memes. But for me, it was a big deal, and I walked a little taller. If we pause and pay attention, we see small and large acts of courage every day. Whether someone is coming out to their family and friends, or starting school again after many years, or speaking in front of a crowd, or applying for a new job, or taking a school bus for the first time, or serving in a war zone, we need to appreciate the hill, or mountain, or Everest, they had to climb to get there.

I just asked my brave little tooth-puller when she thought she was courageous, and she said that she will be when she starts baseball next week. I asked her why, and she said; "Well, I don't know if they're going to throw the ball at me and hit me with it, but I'm just going to get up there and try to hit it anyway." As usual, the seven-year-old is succinct and wise. Here's a boost of confidence to all of us who are going to go up there and try to hit it anyway. May we all be King of the Forest.

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