Sometimes I leap right into a blog post with the idea fully-formed.
Inevitably it morphs into something else along the way.
Today, as I was walking into work (my trek into work/around my desk each morning is akin to a small pilgrimage), I had a thought: I just want to write bravery as honestly as possible.
And all morning I was thinking about how many people -- well, maybe not MANY, but quite a few -- have told me I'm brave. Have called me brave like it's my name.
Coraggio. Coraggio. You've got a lot of it.
And as I pushed the side door open from the loading dock into the concourse of the football stadium, I realized/remembered that whenever anyone calls me brave, I just feel small.
Where they see courage, I see floundering.
When they tell me (very kindly) how brave I am, all I see is a girl grabbing at the air, while alternately shrinking back, shoulders protecting her body, begging not to be humiliated.
Over the last couple of weeks I've seen that I have a fear of humiliation. I wrote somewhere that I had a pretty intense fear of looking "like a damn fool," in the words I wrote down that day.
I don't really know why that is. My family speaks the language of sarcasm, and for the most part I think it's pretty harmless. We all know it comes from a place of love, so for the most part, I can deal with snark. But I've always been afraid of being embarrassed. Public embarrassment is my The End. I remember feeling, when I was a kid, that if someone told a secret of mine, then my life would be OVER, because everyone would see me differently from that moment on. If I had a crush on a boy (my first crush was in second grade, in case you were wondering), I would dread for him to know, because what if he knew and didn't like me back? And then everyone would know (somehow; after all, this was second grade), and I would somehow be less than I was before, in their eyes. Somehow I felt that rejection made people see me differently. It made me less. It made me subordinate. It made me faulty. Defective. Like I was a piece of clay pottery with a massive chip broken out of the side -- maybe with the handle still attached.
Embarrassment gets worse when you find yourself unable to laugh at it. Everyone seems to think you should be able to laugh at it. My own dad subscribes to this view. And to a certain extent, I agree with him. But sometimes embarrassment or humiliation or rejection or a passing remark -- sometimes they cut, and cut DEEP. And when they strike at a place that is tender, like the exposed root of a tooth, it is hard to shake off. Hard to throw back your head and laugh at it. And then you become more embarrassed still, and think that something is wrong with you because you can't laugh it off, and the whole time you're desperately trying to laugh it off so you don't look bad to everyone around you.
And why would you look bad? Because you were hurt by something someone else said? Why does being sensitive make us villainous? Why does the way we feel make us less?
Why does the way we feel make us less?
A lot of times courage is just standing up and saying, "Hey, I feel this way." Whether that's telling someone that what they said was hurtful or confessing to someone that you're in love with them -- sometimes courage is just setting your feelings down, gently, on the table in front of someone and letting them roll around like marbles, air out like dryer sheets.
To this day I'm afraid of admitting certain feelings. I feel like I cannot express how I am truly feeling to some of the people I care about. How often do we really air out all our feelings, emptying the laundry bag?
We never feel safe enough to do it; that's the deal.
I'm not saying to air your feelings out to everyone. Some people haven't earned the right, or have forfeited the right. I have several of those in my own life. But sometimes, some people, YOUR people -- well, that's why they're your people. It's also why we have therapists, counselors, spiritual directors. So we can talk and not feel like we're being mocked.
It's when my Big Feelings are out that I am most often called brave. Except it's also when I feel the most ridiculous, the most likely to be mocked.
Maybe that's why it's brave. Because we're exposing ourselves to ridicule, and we know that, and we do it anyway.
Maybe that's the center of bravery. The word anyway.
Because courage is never, ever, ever ever ever ever EVER the absence of fear. It's feeling all the fear and doing the thing anyway.
I won't even say it's about not letting fear immobilize you. Because I've been immobilized by fear plenty. of. times.
And I speak as someone who does not see herself as brave all the time, though it does help, when I'm Having a Day, to remind myself, "Sara Bailey Baumgardner, you are brave." (You gotta use the full name, like you're a parent talking to their child and trying to convince them of the seriousness of what you have to say.)
I don't really know what I'm going for here. I don't know if I have a point or not.
I guess what I started out to say was this: I want people to know that when I'm being "brave," or when other people perceive me as being courageous, I don't feel brave.
But we never feel brave.
It's only after the fact that we step back and go "Holy crap: I'm brave! That was brave!" But we rarely, if ever, feel brave in the moment.
And I wanted people to know that. But it raises the question in my mind: how on EARTH do we know what situations require us to be brave?
Well, sometimes it comes when we know we're freaking terrified. And we know we have to do the thing anyway. But sometimes we just... sometimes we just move. We just do what we know has to be done.
That's really what bravery is, I think. We will keep moving or we will die. We will cease to be who we are. Our light will be extinguished.
This is a flawed analogy, but: sometimes people ask certain questions about the nature of God. Like, can He do such and such a thing. Some of the answers to some of those those questions are variations on "If He did, He would cease to be Himself."
It's similar with us. Do we have the choice to stop, to become immobilized, to run the other way? Actually, cowardice never really has a direction, as in, the OTHER direction. Cowardice is standing still. Cowardice is immobilization. Cowardice is hiding. Cowardice IS, as I said earlier, protecting yourself with your shoulders, chin tucked into your sternum, begging for the world not to see you so you don't have to do the thing.
Most of the time, I gotta tell y'all, I feel like a coward. Because I'm so terrified, and honestly, I would RATHER sit still.
We DO have the choice to sit still. But bravery is motion. Bravery is kinetics. Bravery is the way atoms have motion in their electrons and in the thrumming of their nuclei. Because if we sit still, if we resist inertia -- for bravery always comes from inertia, from motion that is ALREADY OCCURRING -- if we sit still, we will die. We will cease to be ourselves. We will regress into a former version of ourselves. Yes, we will, and I can tell you from experience, because when I allow fear to shout loud in my ears and freeze my blood and bones, I feel like the girl I was and not the woman I'm becoming. I'm learning the difference, how each one feels in between my ears and in the hollow of my chest, in the blood in my sternum. My sternum is where I feel fear, by the way. It's the locus of my fear; it's the fear place in my body.
I haven't figured out where in my body my courage comes from, unless it's my hips (which DO lie, because I played a dude in an opera, lest we forget). It comes from my gut.
If we sit still, if we languish, if we allow fear to scream so loud in our ears and in our hearts that we stop dead in our tracks, immobilized -- if we are still, we die. We cease to be ourselves. And also, a small part of us dies inside. And life is not full, and we do not get what we want, either in the moment, which does matter, or in the grand arc, which is more important still: because what we want in the Grand Story is Abundant Life.
I had no idea I had so much to say here.
And I do not know how to conclude.
Except I will urge you, brothers and sisters of mine, not to let fear immobilize you. It will shout you down, it will scream at you, it will panic inside your head and set your insides aflame with cold blue ice and fire. And courage is a quiet voice. But courage will tell you to move, and I beg you: heed it. Listen to it. It knows you -- really knows you. It sees you. It's from that small seedling place in your gut that knows exactly what you have to do.
Fear will attempt to freeze you in your tracks. Don't let it.
Move. Take one tiny step. One small step for man and all that jazz.
Because even if you move just the littlest bit, you will have defeated fear. And you will be emboldened, and the length of your strides will grow, and fear will keep screaming, but it will shrivel up and retreat bit by bit. It will lose its ground as you march directly toward it.
Because, you see, fear itself is a coward. But we are not.
We are brave, we are in motion, and we are fighters.