We Are All Brave
As I watch the scenes from the Texas floods, I am overcome with awe for the bravery I see. People heading TOWARDS disaster, not away, in order to save others. I watch the confirmation that all Life is precious, especially as I watched one woman working with others to save baby bats from the rising water under a bridge. This is what she could do, and so she did it.
And I am struck not only by acts of significant heroism, but by the ordinary bravery of ordinary folks.
Because I see how brave you have to be just to leave your home for a makeshift shelter, not knowing if you will have anything to return to. How brave it is to wait – if that is all you can do. Or even to be safe somewhere, and wonder who you know that may not be safe yet. To reassure your children when you are so very frightened yourself.
I was thinking about writing about this ‘ordinary’ bravery, when I listened to an old radio interview from 1989 with John Updike. He was speaking, without excess emotion, about growing up with a stutter, and about living with disfiguring, but oh-so-ordinary, psoriasis.
And I knew I was on to something. I knew I had to write about ordinary bravery.
Updike spoke of how impossible it was to pass by a reflection in a window without stopping to glance – to see if maybe he had changed.
And I think of the bravery of people with disfigurements – however simple or complex – who get up every day and face the world anyway. The very bravery of people with limps who walk by us on the sidwalk. The boys with acne who ask girls out on dates The girls with crooked teeth who smile at us.
Those bats under the bridge may have been afraid – but most likely they have no knowledge of what could happen next. They live in the moment. But human beings can imagine all sorts of futures – all sorts of bad things that could happen next. And yet they go on.
I am impressed by the bravery of first-time parents as they bring their infants home. Women who have never been mothers, and men who have never been fathers. They are so very aware of the magnificant and terrible responsibility in their arms. And they smile with true joy and take this grave responsibility and go on.
I admire the bravery of every person who signs a mortgage or a new lease – or even a buys a car. No one is sure he has made the very best decision. Nor is sure it will all work out. But after a sleepless night or two, plunges ahead. Makes it work.
And like Updike with his stutter, how brave it is for those with speech impediments, or thick accents, or the unheard voice of the deaf, to speak up. To say what needs to be said, in spite of their imperfect sound. And even those with clear voices – how brave to address a meeting, or answer a question in class. There is always the danger they will be wrong, will be ridiculed. But they speak.
How brave it is to face the judgment of others. To risk criticism in small actions – singing or dancing, selling a handmade item, writing a book that some may not like. Putting it out there anyway. And even the very private bravery of every overweight person – and there are many in this country – who worries at the supermarket that someone will criticize what they put in their cart.
And those who start a new job, as they enter a strange building where they have no mastery of the job, no friends, no lunch plans, no map to the restroom. Yet they get dressed up in what they hope will be appropriate attire and walk through the unknown door in the hopes of a future.
And children trying new foods, taking the training wheels off the bike, jumping for the first time off the diving board. And teenagers figuring out their high school schedule, trying out for track, getting behind the wheel of the car for their first lesson. College kids being dropped off at the dorm. What trepidation they must feel in growing up. We all felt it – that combination of exhilation and apprehension. How brave they are every day.
There is also bravery in growing old. In coping with illness. With taking new steps after hip surgery. With managing on a fixed income. With confronting death that visits now with more frequency – friends, family, a spouse of fifty years. Saying, “Thank you for coming,” at the funeral, and then returning to a now-emptier home.
And here is my own small bravery:
Three times a week, I put on my skimpy gym clothes and go off to Yoga or Zumba class. I stand at the front of the room. And everyone behind me can see that I am not perfect. I have scoliosis. I show my crooked back to the world. But I still go. I still smile. I do my best.
We are all brave.