Monday, June 27, 2011

Courage---what is it?

This post was inspired by the book, The Unexpected Circumnavigation by Christi Grab.  As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for inspirational blog posting. It is not intended to by a review.

          Our Left to Write Book Club selection this month was The Unexpected Circumnavigation by Christi Grab. While I agree putting your career on hold and boating around the world takes great courage, the book reminded me that in some lives it takes great courage to just navigate what life dishes out. No boat required.
Maya Angelou says, “History, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
The exercise in naming courage as a trait that I value is mental; the exercise of claiming this quality in daily life is another leg of the uphill trek that is my life. C.S. Lewis stated, “Courage is not simply one of the values, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Applying Lewis’ quote to my own life, an example is ---I believe all children deserve a secure homelife. The testing point of this esoteric belief about what children deserve came when I had to show up in court and support the case to terminate my own sister’s parental rights. A life that has provided so many testing points has helped me claim courage in helpful ways.
In a departmental meeting of a non-profit for which I worked, our task was to bombard each person around the table with positive messages. When my turn came to receive the bombardment, our departmental Administrative Assistant spoke first.
She hesitates, then says, “I don’t know how else to say this: you have the biggest balls I have ever seen on a man or woman!”
As the folks around the table guffawed, I digested the ‘compliment’ and decided it was, indeed, a compliment. “Why thank you. That may be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
When Husband Number Four walked out on our first attempt to marry, I felt mortified. I received a phone call from a friend at church. She said, “Remember when you called me after my husband was caught doing something questionable at work and encouraged me to hold my head high and return to church?”
I acknowledged I remembered the occasion. “It’s your turn to be courageous” she said “Come to church in the morning despite your embarrassment.”
So I did. My friends greeted me with warm compassion. A friend next to me in choir, kissed me on the cheek and said “You are the bravest woman I know.”
The significance of these incidents is I had to be told  I was courageous.  I am reminded of the lyric in the song Let me Fall “Someone-I-am is waiting for courage.” The lyrics in the full song remind me that courage is a very solitary task. It must come from me; it can’t be given to me. I still wait for courage even after all the times I have had to access it. I think of courage in terms of overcoming great physical challenges like Christopher Reeve faced and like Michael J. Fox continues to do every day of his life---not to mention countless non-celebrities, like Husband Number One in his fight with MS. People who meet the challenge of physical battles. I now acknowledge that overcoming emotional, mental and social challenges can be on the courage list too. I give thanks for people who reminded me I had overcome numerous battles again and again and again. The dictionary indicates that courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc. without fear.” Note there is no reference to whether the difficulty, danger or pain is physical, emotional, mental or social. So I, hereby, acknowledge I have been a courageous person and will continue to be as I face whatever crag or gorge lies ahead. Because sometimes---
Courage means making the hard phone call.
Courage means showing up.
Courage means putting one foot in front of the other.
Courage means standing up to bullies.
Courage means defending your values.
Courage means saying no to your kids.
Courage means telling the truth.
Courage means voting.
Courage means confronting injustice.
Courage means telling your story.

The Democratic National Committee hired me as Senior Advisor for Religious Outreach during the Kerry/Edwards Campaign of 2004. I assured them I had the strength and courage to withstand political forces. I brashly stated “There is nothing a politician or journalist can do to evoke the kind of pain of losing my son, so political world, bring it on!” I used this same line on an incompetent boss who wanted to bully me into submission with her authority. It proved true in both circumstances. Surviving tragedies begets courage along with the pain.
I want to give someone else the last word on how courage has played out in my life. In his book The Courage to Create, Dr. Rollo May states,
Courage is not a virtue or value among other personal values like love or fidelity. It is the foundation that underlies and gives reality to all other virtues and personal values. Without courage our love pales into mere dependency. Without courage our fidelity becomes conformism.
The word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning “heart.” Thus just as one’s heart, by pumping blood to ones’ arms, legs, and brain enables all the other physical organs to function, so courage makes possible all the psychological virtues. Without courage other values wither away into mere facsimiles of virtue.
In human beings courage is necessary to make being and becoming possible.

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