I have been thinking about what courage is. I want to be a courageous woman, but so often I am not. I am brave, but I am chicken shit, like Alanis Morisette says in her song Hand in my pocket. Around my neck I carry a simple silver necklace that Steve got me for my last birthday. It says: Courage. I like wearing it as a reminder to not give up and to not let fear guide me. Then there are the days when the necklace seems more like a joke. Like: Courage? Ha!
I want to be courageous. I am also fascinated with people who have shown great courage. Then I don’t think of top-level athletes who live in constant climate control, who get a diet planned just for them, who earn millions for their skills, and who have teams dedicated to serving them and making them excel. I think more along the lines of the ones who have all the odds against them, but still don’t give up.
I have met and been inspired by many such people over the years. Most of them I have met in Burma, or in the refugee camps:
- The many men and women who have fought for their right to live for more than sixty years without giving up.
- The handful of women I met in Kachin State, Northern Burma, who is fighting a whole army (the Burma Army) by helping and sustaining the civilians who are on the run.
- The people I met in Rangoon recently who had risked their lives and freedom to speak against the regime, and many of them ended up in prison for doing so.
That kind of guts takes courage. None of them would have done what they did without a very solid portion of selfless fearlessness.
I have met courage other places as well. In Mother Teresa and in Nelson Mandela, in my mom and in my friends who are foster parents for a mentally challenged teenager. I have seen it in the dad who takes his adult autistic daughter for a walk in the neighborhood every day, no matter what the weather. I have seen it in cancer patients who let us see their head with no hair. I have seen it in teenagers who dare to be different, and in adults that don’t conform to the establishment, unless the establishment is doing something right.
I feel like a wimp compared to these. I feel like my courage muscles are so small I look like a stick man (woman). I feel like the necklace I wear is indeed a joke. I call it courage when I jump into the cold ocean on a chill summer day. Or when I say no to ice cream when everybody else is having some.
But I guess one can get a little courage at the time. If one starts by doing small courageous things, then one will work the muscles so that they get a little stronger. And little by little they will be worked up the size of—not exactly Aung San Suu Kyi or Martin Luther King Jr.—but maybe as big as our elementary school teacher whom we adored so much when we were small because she saw a star in each one of us, or as big as a neighbor who reaches out to refugees or single moms.
The biggest hindrance to my courage, I have realized, is my own fear. My fear of not making it, my fear of losing control, my fear of what others may think. Fear has held me back from reaching the potential I have to change the world a little. Fear keeps me from speaking up against injustice. Fear keeps me from taking the side of those who are weak. Fear keeps me from sharing my belongings. Fear keeps me from getting close to somebody who may hurt me.
So as I am contemplating courage, I will also try to say No to the fear that is lurking.
I read this cool quote today, and I thought it was a good inspirational quote in my quest for courage:
Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle.The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours. (Ayn Rand)