Recently, a friend and I were discussing, in a roundabout way, the whole idea of bravery, and what it means to be brave in the days we’re allotted on Earth — most of which are filled with hour upon hour of less-than-inspiring tasks. What would it mean, we wondered, to possess a set of big brass cojones? What would it mean, we wondered, to be flat-out brave?
We all know what bravery looks like.
It looks like 18 and 19 year old kids standing on the deck of a landing barge, nearing the Normandy coast and knowing that the beach is mined and the bullets are meant for them.
It looks like London parents sending their children into the homes of strangers in the countryside, to get them away from the Luftwaffe’s Blitz.
It looks like mothers and fathers hanging from the skids of an American helicopter, desperate to get their families out of Saigon.
It’s the faces of Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko and Jeremiah Denton and Nicholas Winton, and the thousands of men and women who get up every day and put our safety in front of their own.
These are extreme examples of bravery, easily recognized. But what does bravery look like when it’s not under duress?
What does it look like on the days when just getting out of bed seems like a monumental effort?
What does bravery look like when it’s not heroic, not a matter of life and death, not a matter of good versus evil….but just a matter of choice: of choosing between a life that is comfortably familiar yet wholly uninspired, versus taking a leap into the possibility of something greater?
When you think about the people you admire, there’s generally a common link, a way of living that stirs something inside you. I know what it is that I admire about various people in the world: It’s a willingness to fly — which, by definition, requires a willingness to fall.
Being brave requires us to risk ourselves in ways big and small. Being brave requires us to let ourselves be known, scars and all; it demands that we stand up and be counted. Being brave forces us to step away from what is familiar and embrace the infinite possibilities in the unknown.
For so many of us, life is about staying small. It’s about hiding who we really are, because we dread being judged and found lacking; it’s about letting our energy and desires be subsumed by the monotony of daily life. It’s about letting opportunities go by, and risks go untaken, because we are afraid.
There’s a Carly Simon song called Touched by the Sun that I love. [Interesting side note about Carly, she not only stutters in regular speech, she also has terrible stage fright. To force herself to get over it during a particularly dark time in her life, she once gave a concert during rush hour in Grand Central Station. The video of it is priceless — all these busy people coming and going, pushing and shoving, and then…wait, is that…? Holy crap! That’s actually Carly Simon!]
Here’s an excerpt from Touched by the Sun:
Often I want to walk
The safe side of the street,
And lull myself to sleep
And dull my pain.
But deep down inside I know
I’ve got to learn from the greats,
Earn my right to be living,
Let my wings of desire
Soar over the night.
I need to let them say,
“She must have been mad.”
And I, I want to get there.
I want to be one,
One who is touched by the sun.
The commonality between all the people I admire is that they live in the light. They create their own opportunities, seek their own paths, and inspire the people around them with resilience, fortitude, and the knowledge that to those who are fearful, bravery can seem like foolishness — but to those who are brave, fear is very rarely rational.
Far too often, we count on life to be long, and we put off being brave for another day, another time, another situation. I’ll say yes the next time I’m asked, I’ll stand up for myself next time, I’ll be stronger next time, I’ll ask for help next time, I won’t be afraid next time, I’ll say I love you next time.…But the number of our days isn’t known to us, and this is our one go-round.
At the end of our lives, will we have spent the balance of our days in sunlight, or in darkness?
Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner, summed it up this way:
“The way we are living,
timorous or bold,
will have been our life.”
I’m going for bold. I hope you’ll join me.
PS: Want to hear Touched by the Sun? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe5ltsXX4Pc