The Courage to Live

I am participating in Momalom’s fantastic event called Five For Ten where for the next ten days I’ll be writing about different topics along with an amazing group of bloggers.  The first topic is courage.  Please click on the Five For Ten button to read some of the other amazing posts on this topic!

I am not courageous. I’m really not. I have far too many fears and hang-ups to ever describe myself that way. I’m afraid of speaking my mind. Afraid of sickness. Afraid of people not liking me. Offending people. Screwing my kids up. Losing someone close to me. Walking around with my skirt tucked into my undies. (Serious concern people!). I wish I could say I’m courageous but there isn’t even ONE example I can give that would label me that way. I got into all 13 colleges I applied to because I didn’t have enough courage to apply to a real “reach” school. There are situations in my life that make me miserable, and they will forever, because I don’t have the courage to speak up about them. Enough said.

But as I sit here thinking about courage, I wonder if ANYONE would describe themselves as courageous. It’s not usually a description that we tag OURSELVES with. Maybe a “risk taker” or “savvy”, or “fly by the seat of our pants type”, but courageous? I believe it’s a word more often used to describe OTHERS. When you ask someone how they ever got the nerve to do something, rarely do they say, “Well, I’m just brave!” No, more often they say, “I don’t know, I just did it. I didn’t think twice.” or, “I didn’t have a choice.” The few times people have told me (usually in a comment on a post I’ve written) that I was courageous to write the words I wrote, I usually, think, “Oh shit, I was probably nuts to write that! I’m going to end up offending someone.” and I then cowardly, take the post down.

I have however, taken risks. But I think there’s a big difference between Courage and Bravery vs someone who takes risks. To me, Courage comes from the heart. From a place of Good. Being a risk taker is more a description of your physical nerve and less emotional.

For example, I’ve skied down off-trail slopes that any other sane 15 year old wouldn’t have dared to. I’ve jumped off 30 foot cliffs into quarries. Smart? Not so much. I didn’t put much thought into these decisions… just did them because they seemed like fun. Risky. Not brave. I wasn’t doing anyone any good by doing these dare-devily things… I just did them to say that I did. For a high five. Brave would be jumping in after a 15 year old had hit her head on a rock in the quarry to save her. Brave would be having fallen skiing and seriously injured myself, only to come back after months of therapy, even if only on the bunny slope. Courage is finding it within yourself to face something that usually brings you fear or brings MOST people fear.

Soldiers, Fire fighters, Police Officers, Rescue workers – all courageous. Because they know the risks, have calculated the risks, but their passion and their heart drives them to face danger. Would they describe themselves as Courageous? Doubtful. They just wouldn’t know any other way. I hold these people up on a pedestal. I honor them. Am impressed by them. Am awed by them.

But I am impressed even more by another type of Courage. The fighting kind of courage.

I think of my 96 year old grandmother as a Fighter. Not the demographic that I’d normally apply the word Courageous to. No, she didn’t dive in front of a pedestrian and save her from an oncoming bus. No, she didn’t overcome a life threatening illness or a childhood filled with abuse. No, she certainly wouldn’t say she has courage. But she is 96. She can’t hear very well. She forgets words. She can’t control her bowels or her bladder. She falls asleep in the middle of a conversation. It takes her forever to get from point A to point B. And she feels like she’s a burden. We’d never describe her that way, but she feels that way.

But she gets up every morning alone and faces her day with strength. She throws her little legs over the side of the bed, holds onto her walker and shuffles to the bathroom. She gets dressed, reads the paper, makes herself tea and visits with her friends. She may only hear a fifth of what they say, but she still stays in their company. Still goes to the dining room for meals instead of staying alone in her room because Living isn’t being alone. As scary as leaving her room may be.

She’s not happy every day. She’s uncomfortable. She’s tired. She is lonely living in her own head without being able to hear what others are saying. She counts the minutes until my mom arrives for her daily visit and when my mom leaves, starts counting until the next one.

She is so brave to push on with her life not ever having an idea what the day in front of her will look like. I often wonder if she takes a deep breath at the start of each day and says, “Ok, here we go again…” because really, her days can’t look much different from one to the next. But the days that DO look different, the days where I come with the kids for a visit ,or the days when she can get dressed up for a special Chinese dinner with my parents, or her home’s dining room hosts “A Night in Paris” theme, THESE are the days that make all the fighting worth it. And the thought of seeing Hannah in her first grade play or Luke ride his bike for the first time? This is why she has the Courage to continue to take her two dozen pills each day, have someone help her take a shower and why she’s willing to sit quietly at the dinner table watching her friend’s mouths move and see the look of laughter in their eyes without knowing quite WHY they are laughing. This is why she doesn’t Give Up. She wants to Be Around. Witness the blooming around her.

Nana doesn’t take risks. I’m quite sure she NEVER took risks even in her youth. But she’s damn full of Courage. Courage to ask people around her for help. Courage to face each day head on and continue to be the compassionate, loving, witty, interesting, interested lady she has always been. Courage to still dress with style asking my mom to buckle her shoes, clasp her beautiful necklace, and tie her scarf.

To me, that’s what courage is about. Unearthing something within your heart… that compels you to act even in the face of adversity because you know in the end, it can only be beneficial. Beneficial for you OR for others. But if you have to say, “Hey look at me! I’m courageous!” then really, it’s not courage at all.

I’m not courageous. I’m too scared to be courageous. But I’m inspired by others’ courage.

Especially my Nana.

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71 Comments

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71 responses to “The Courage to Live

  1. Becca, I’m not sure you are giving yourself enough credit. Inside yourself is a very courageous soul. You recognize your fears and though you might not feel ready to face them all yet, every day you get up, take care of your kids, live your life as a wife and individual and think about things that you then write about here. That’s brave. There are many people in the world who refuse to even think about these things. You said it yourself, courage is “unearthing something with your heart that compels you to act,” isn’t that what you do every time you write? Isn’t that what you do with every choice, decision, loving gesture that you give to your children, to your husband. It’s all the same, and it’s all meaningful and it’s all courageous.

    • Thanks Christine. Yet, I still don’t really think of these things as brave. They are what I NEED to do. I signed up to be a mom and couldn’t imagine parenting any other way.

      Yes, I suppose the writing I do is brave at times. But sometimes I more think it’s risky… putting myself and my heart out there scares me and sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the risk! And then I read comments like yours… and I know it’s definitely worth it!

  2. Becca, have you heard of http://www.momalom.com….she is doing a link up thing called five for ten…there are five topics to post about for the next few days. And the first topic is COURAGE. This post would be fabulous. If you are up for the challenge you should check it out.

    http://momalom.com/
    the info is on the side of the blog and her courage post is up! Just thought I would share since your post is fabulous and would fit right in.

  3. oh, duh! I see now that you have their button up on the side of your blog! Sorry. HA! I thought it was too weird that your post was on courage…so fun that I already subscribe to your blog.

  4. Becca, I totally beg to differ 🙂 I think you embody courage in a few ways. Being by your parents side recently during your dads scare, how you kept moving, how you went on and took deep breaths and in a courageous way became a pillar of strength for your family (in my humble opinion ;))
    But you are also right, if someone needs to point a finger at themselves and say “courage! I have it! Look at me!” that’s not courage.
    But you’ve got it. And your Nana sounds like an incredible woman!

    • Thank you Corinne. But as I mentioned in Christine’s comment… these things that you say are courageous, are just things I feel I MUST do. I don’t make the conscious decision to do them, they just are part of who I am. What YOU have done – the changes YOU have made in your life for you and your family… now THAT is courage. You could have turned your cheek and walked the other way, but you didn’t. I’m afraid that kind of courage, I may not have.

      And my Nana… she IS an incredible woman. 🙂

      • See, I think it totally takes courage to do the things you need to do. You cojld curl up in a ball, but you don’t 🙂
        Thank you for your kind words!

  5. Liz

    I’ve been thinking about this courage thing, Becca, for days…because I am not sure how I am going to tackle it on my 5 for 10 post. As you know, I am scared a lot too. How insightful of you, to differentiate between risky and courageous. I never thought about it that way. Now, you have given me yet more to ponder…This was a really beautiful, well-written post.

    • Thanks Liz. I think we share so many of the same fears. But maybe recognizing them and doing something about them is the kind of courage we both have. No?

  6. Very interesting! I have never thought about a difference between courage and risk-taking. In fact, I’d say it takes courage to take a risk, but on the other hand, I generally have courage, but hate risks. Hmmm. Now I don’t know! lol

    • I guess there are different kinds of risks too. There are the risks that you take in the hopes of living a better life, like quitting your job on Wall Street to become an an artist in the hopes of being discovered. That kind of risk does take courage. But then there are the mindless kinds of risks like I mentioned in my post like jumping off a cliff into a quarry. I don’t think it takes courage to do that – just BALLS! 🙂 And I definitely think you can be a risk taker without courage or be courageous without liking risks.

      Thanks for your comment!

  7. I think this is such a clever distinction: risk-taking vs. courage. I’m definitely not a physical risk-taker and I don’t think of myself as courageous in the traditional sense either, but I do hope that I’ll be able to embody dignity in the way your Nana does – and you’re right, that does take courage.

    And I’m with Corinne, you are more courageous than you give yourself credit for: just putting yourself and your words out here takes courage, I think.

    • Thanks Kristen. I guess it does take courage to write some of the posts I’ve written, but as I mentioned to Corinne, sometimes I think it’s more risky. Which is why half of my “courageous” posts I take down after I’ve written them!

  8. I think that courage cannot be systematically defined. Based on what your definition is, you, too, are courageous. Your Nana wakes up and lives and so do you. I understand your reticence, Becca, but I hope that you can see how truly courageous it is to wake up and parent.

    With that said, I greatly appreciate you discussing your Nana. My old landlord recently died (he was 9o something). He was exactly like you describe your Nana: courageous because he continued to live. He didn’t stay in bed (although I’m sure he wanted to) and didn’t stop going out (even though he was in great pain) and he definitely didn’t stop thinking. I hope that I can be like your Nana and my former landlord when I reach that age–graceful and determined to live life out, no matter what.

    P.S. I am so glad to be back on-line. I have been reading your old posts and am saddened that I missed reading them immediately! Still, great stuff here, Becca, great stuff.

    • I also hope to be like my Nana. Forever full of love. Of passion. Of honesty and dignity. She’s lived a fantastic life and refuses to think about when it will end.

      Thanks Amber – from all of my comments, I am starting to believe that maybe this parenting thing DOES take courage!

  9. Lovely, absolutely lovely for you to see the courage in what most people would see as a life of drudgery. And so insightful to understand the difference between being risky and being courageous. I had never thought of it like that before, but they really are not all that synonymous are they?

    By the way, you are courageous. You are courageous because it takes courage to acknowledge our faults. And once you acknowledge them, you can then act of them in courageous ways.

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful story about your nana.

    • Thank you Alisha. I am good at seeing my faults but I see that more as honest and self aware than courageous. But I guess you’re right, if I admit to my faults and say I’m going to work on them and change them, then that is courage. Thank you for coming by!

  10. Nicki

    Becca – I am with everyone else here. You are courageous but don’t see it. Like other traits we may all strive for, I think courage is one of those we hardly ever see in ourselves.

    • Thanks Nicki… I think above so many other traits, courage is one we see least in ourselves. I don’t know why but I personally don’t think it’s something we strive for. It’s just something that happens. We may strive to be honest and nobel and ethical and helpful in times of need, but courageous? I don’t know… I don’t see it as something we describe ourselves as.

  11. What a beautiful story about your Nana. It must be so hard for her. No doubt, she is a courageous woman.
    Good point that most people don’t think of themselves as being courageous. I am also the “I just did it” kind of person. I would never consider myself courageous. Maybe I (like you!) don’t give myself enough credit!

    • Yes, maybe we should give ourselves more credit Shannon but I think those that are truly courageous just do things because they feel right doing them. But again, it’s a word I use OFTEN to describe others because I see the courage in THEM… I just can’t see it in me.

  12. You have courage if you have ever tackled a fear. Do you really expect us to believe from all your writing that we have read that you have no courage, that you have never tackled a fear? I like your modesty but I do not believe you. As women, we are all courageous. The fact that you quit your job to raise a family, and trust that your huband will always have your best interests takes courage. To be honest when a lie would be easier takes courage. To talk about your feelings towards your brother with sincerity takes courage. Just face it: you are courageous. Now just believe it.

    • I’m not just trying to be modest Joely. I just don’t describe what I’ve done courageous. I describe it as NEEDING to do it to feel good about the way I live. If I didn’t tackle these fears that I’ve had or speak up to my brother, I’d be miserable. However, I’m sure if I was watching someone else do some of the things I’ve done, I’d describe THEM as brave… I just have a hard time describing myself that way. But I’ll take your advice and try to believe it more. Thanks for your words. I do appreciate them.

  13. Writing and sharing – it’s not easy. It takes a lot of courage, and you have that. Going through what you did to have Luke – that’s courage. You have more courage than you know.

    And it’s easy to see where that comes from. Your nana is indeed an inspiration, but you are not far from the person you see and admire in her. Look closer and you will see yourself. Just as we see you.

    • You are right justine, going through all of the craziness I went through and then going back again and again, setting myself for more drama, was brave. I think you’ve found the one thing I CAN admit I had courage for! I just was determined to have another baby. Couldn’t imagine it any other way… so I found the strength.

      Thank you for this… I needed it!

  14. I always smile when I read your posts because I feel like I’m staring in a mirror.

    I am so afraid of so many things, mostly health related issues–losing those I love.

    It taints everything I do. It rules too much of my life.

    It makes me feel so unbelievably UN courageous.

    I’m so glad you are out there!

  15. I understand what you mean about not being courageous. I see it in myself, in my own fears and insecurities and how I’ve missed out on opportunities because I wasn’t brave enough to put myself in a vulnerable position.

    But I also think that if we allow ourselves the small braveries, the daily courage that your Nana has and that Kristen blogged about earlier, then we can begin to see how we are courageous and then it becomes easier to take bigger steps, become more vulnerable, and own our bravery.

    I hope you agree.

    • Oh Kelly, what a wonderful way to put this. “Allow ourselves”. That’s just it. I don’t really allow myself to feel brave. Or to admit that I’m brave. I usually just think I’m doing what I need to do… what comes naturally to me. From reading all of these courageous posts, I’m seeing that the small things really are the things that make us brave and that just Being a mom, by definition makes us brave.

      Thank you so much.

  16. You just need to tweak your definition of courage and you’ll realize you are already courageous.

    • Thanks Shell. I’m realizing from reading so many of the other courageous posts that courage comes in all shapes and sizes… and some of the smaller things I force myself to do maybe are small acts of courage.

  17. What a lovely tribute to your Nana. I don’t think I’m courageous, either. Not at all. So in that way, I sympathize and understand.

    But you’re right–do we ever think of ourselves as courageous? Or is it an honor we bestow only on others?

  18. This is the best description of courage I’ve read yet. I can’t add anything more to it, other than to echo your sentiment: it takes courage to live even when there are no disasters or dramas forcing us to “become” courageous. =)

    • Thanks WackyMummy. My Nana shows me this bravery each and every day. I don’t know how she does it – I only hope to have the same courage when I’m her age.

      Thank you for your comment!

  19. Jen

    I think to recognize courage in others is a special gift, really. Obviously your Nana is a courageous woman who is still affecting those who love her in profound ways. And you are learning from her the ways in which perhaps you may become more courageous. How wonderful to have such a lovely presence in your life. How lucky she is to have such a loving family.

  20. First – so glad you found me! I think I might already be following you on Twitter, actually!

    Second – your post. Made me cry because it reminded me of my own Granny Bea who passed away 8 years ago. She was a Fighter. She was courageous. In exactly the ways you describe.

    I think you’re really onto something here. The courage it takes to be alone. Yes, your Nana has your family and her friends, but the life you described is a solitary life. And yet, she endures it because there are moments that make it worth it. She has the courage to live for those moments.

    • Thanks Lauren. I can’t even imagine having the courage to live the way my Nana does. But she does it, as sad and lonely as she may be… she still goes on. I wish I could give her more moments to live for. I think having written this, I will make more of an effort so that I don’t regret it when she’s no longer here to fight.

  21. It is funny, because how I define courage is how you define brave. I have been in situations where I have acted with “courage” as you put it. But honestly, it was nothing more than action/reaction. Courage is taking risks on yourself, getting up, putting yourself out there. In that, you are courageous. Nice post.

  22. You are a mom. You are, by definition, courageous already. You just don’t realize it yet… sort of like you don’t realize just how impossibly hard those first few weeks after having a child are until you are past them, you won’t necessarily realize your courage until you look back on all you have done as a mom.

    Glad I have ‘met’ you through 5 for 10~

    • That’s so true Samantha. Maybe you see yourself as courageous when you look BACK on what you’ve done instead of in the moment. I like that. I already don’t know how I did it those first few months with my colicky son! I know I wanted to throw him out the window but now I see how brave I was to continue on each day! 🙂

      Thank you so much for your comment and I’ll be back to visit tomorrow!

  23. I’m a fellow chicken, but I love your grandmother.

    And since you do too, you’re on your way.

  24. I’m too scared to be courageous.

    You and me both. But it’s lovely that we can absorb at least bit of the courage of others.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone in being too scared to be courageous. I’m working on it… but I still have far too many fears and worries. So for now, I’ll live off the bravery of others and applaud them for all they do!

      Thanks for your comment!

  25. Courage requires thoughtfulness. Your Nana is thoughtful in her actions, choosing not always the easiest road but the road most full of life. Interesting perspective, thanks for making me think a little today too!

    • And thank you for stopping by! My Nana is definitely thoughtful… she will always choose a way to live life to its fullest. Even on her most difficult days. I wish I could help her more than I do.

  26. Courage is hard to recognize in ourselves sometimes. But, as others have said, it is important to give ourselves credit — to nurture our ability to encourage ourselves through difficult times.

    I, too, have a grandmother in her nineties. She doesn’t have the verve that yours does, but she’s a fighter, fighting now in fact for her life. Believe me when I say I can understand how inspiring your Nana is to you.

    • I like that! I never even realized that courage is part of encourage! I’m good at encouraging myself and convincing myself to do things so maybe I do have a little bit of courage!

      Thank you for helping me to see this…

  27. Oh, what a wonderful post. I love your take on courage. We should all strive to be courageous in the face of every day life… and hope we get to chance to test our mettle well in to our 90’s and beyond.

    • Thanks Missy. Yes, I learn a lot from my Nana. I don’t know how she does it and only can hope I can live as dignified a life as she does when (god willing) I’m her age.

  28. kebmurphy

    I am more and more convinced that our minds are scarily alike. I posted before reading this (obviously) and, like you, believe that courage/bravery and courage/inspiration are entirely different. Like you, I see only a fine line between courage and foolhardy (jumping into a quarry, etc.). Because I was thinking along the same lines, this post really moved me — courage isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always noble, it is sometimes scary. I’m going to be thinking about your Nana long after I’ve read and commented here…

  29. Not sure my last comment registered so will try again:

    I am more and more convinced that our minds are scarily alike. I posted before reading this (obviously) and, like you, believe that courage/bravery and courage/inspiration are entirely different. Like you, I see only a fine line between courage and foolhardy (jumping into a quarry, etc.). Because I was thinking along the same lines, this post really moved me — courage isn’t always pretty, it isn’t always noble, it is sometimes scary. I’m going to be thinking about your Nana long after I’ve read and commented here…

  30. becca,
    You wake up every morning, with two children in tow, who look up to you for support and guidance.

    You birthed them, brought them home from the hospital, and have cared for them, in sickness and in health, every single day that they have been in existence.

    That, my friend, is courage.

    Because, if we all really thought about what having children really entails, we would all still do it, but we would REALLY be afraid.

    Mothering ain’t for sissies, girl!

  31. Becca,

    I love your Nana. What a wonderful lady.

    Your story about Nana reminded me of how Hemingway defines courage – “Courage is grace under pressure.” Nana is doing that everyday.

    Thanks so much.

  32. momalomsmom

    Yes, Becca, that’s it in a nutshell. She doesn’t give up because she wants to be around and witness the blooming. So well said. Thanks for that. And good for you for sharing yourself and your children with your grandmother, even if it’s inconvenient or difficult. It’s important for everyone, not just her.

  33. czriley

    Courage is not the absence of fear – courage is action in spite of fear. So, while I can totally understand where you’re coming from not thinking yourself courageous (I don’t think of myself as courageous, either) I also think we’re both far more courageous than we know.
    And I love your Nana – makes me see my Grandpa’s life (he’s also 96) in a whole new light. Thanks for sharing!

  34. I had a really hard time with this theme. Like you say, I don’t consider myself courageous. I see that trait in those around me, in the every day heroes and the amazing people out there making the world a better place.

    But you nailed it with this one, Becca. Courage is doing what you’ve got to do, no matter how difficult or wearying it may be.

    This tribute to your nana is so sweet, and a lesson for all of us.

  35. Oh how I’m inspired by people like your grandmother. Getting up, every day, even when it’s hard and LIVING life – that takes courage. And stamina, and mettle, and determination. I’m always amazed at how tiny frail old women can be the strongest people I know. Thanks for this post.

  36. Something that compels you to act, even in the face of adversity – that is a great definition and the one which I used for my post as well. I don’t think you need to be brave – you just need to do.

    Great post – so nice to see how proud you are of your grandmother. I hope you share this and read it to her.

  37. Absolutely beautiful. I have a ninety-eight year old friend. I know it takes her courage to face each day and live. I’ve witnessed in her exactly what you speak of. This is a very moving post. BTW, I think diving into quarries and such does take courage…courage that I lack!

  38. You make a really good point–people who are courageous don’t say they have courage. They’re too busy. But it’s good to admit it sometimes. You’re right about your grandmother–it sounds like she does have courage. 96. Wow!

  39. OK. I’m just repeating everything that everyone else is saying but…I, too, would absolutely consider you courageous. You tackle topics and put yourself out there and sometimes I think, “Oooo, I wish I had said that!” So go ahead – say, “Well, I’m just brave!” ‘Cause it’s true!

  40. LZ

    When I was writing my post I was trying to sum up courage, as opposed to risk taking or fearless, and you did it perfectly.
    It’s true…taking risks, being careless…it’s not courage. It’s going into something when you know the outcome will be or might be bad. It’s be able to do what you need to do, even though someone might get hurt by you doing the right thing.
    You’re so right…no one calls themselves courageous!

  41. Aww… I feel like you were describing my grandma when she was that age. So courageous to just get herself dressed and pretend she wanted to get out of bed.

    Thanks for the memory.

  42. Awesome post. I agree that most people dont see themselves as being courageous.

  43. Maria

    Your nana reminds me of my “yiayia” and how she too took every day in stride despite being in her 90s and needing a lot of help to get through her day. She survived so much, raised 5 kids and remained a vision and example of dignity until her last day.

    Lovely post and by the way, you are courageous in your own right – being a mother demands it.

  44. What an honest musing on an inscrutable topic. I agree with you that your Nana is the portrait of courage. But I disagree with you on another point. And vigorously. You are courageous. You are. You are a mother. You are a blogger. Doing these things, laying ourselves out there, being willing to fail and constantly? These things take immense and constant courage.

    You? Courageous.

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