Throughout my life, especially after some part of my life where I wanted to just curl up in a ball and hide, a variety of people have always told me how brave I was. How courageous I was. It was something that I never understood. Not for the longest time.
The lightbulb clicked in 2007 during my very first visit to the phenOMEnal store IKEA. I was very weak. I had to trade my drivers license for an electric cart. I think I got the better deal however ;)
A great friend, my mother and I were walking around a corner into the kitchenwares section and a woman who had just been passing me goes "OOO!" turns around and gives me the biggest, most awkward one-person-standing-one-person-is-sitting-in-an-electric-cart-and-I-have-NO-idea-who-you-are type of hug. She looks me dead in the eye and says to me "I admire your courage."
I suppose I should mention that I had recently undergone intense chemotherapy for Acute Myelogenous Luekemia, and as a result I had lost all of my hair, and because I am insanely lazy, did not have any sort of a hat covering my head at that moment.
You see, any time I hear the word courage, I automatically think of the movey Braveheart. God Bless Mel Gibson. I hear the word and I imagine blue and white stripes painted down the face. My brain literally equated courage with face painting. Obviously in the middle of IKEA, my face was NOT painted in blue and white stripes.
Needless to say I was confused. This random woman in IKEA admired my courage. But what did that MEAN?
- - That I chose to be bald and without a hat despite possible social embarrassment?
- - That I was riding an electric cart through IKEA when it was quite clearly an act of INSANITY?
- - Or more deeply, that I chose to fight my leukemia despite physical and emotional challenges and didn't let things like not having hair stop me from getting out and living my life?
Was I afraid to go in and not cover my bald head? Yes. Did I let my fear hold me back? No. So then I guess she was right. I was showing courage.
Was I afraid to be riding an electric cart at that time through IKEA? HELL YES. Was I still doing it? Yes, however, there is no way I could walk through IKEA at that time without creating a major impact on my physical abilities for days to come. So I didn't have a choice..... so I did it all just the same. And I did it, despite my fear. Was I showing courage then?
Was I terrified of having leukemia? Yes. Was I terrified of chemo therapy and what it was going to do to my body. Yes. But did I let that fear stop me from going forward? No. And there, in that moment, I chose courage. Lately, I can't say there have been so many interesting things happening that I would be able to say Yes! Hey! I was courageous today! But here is a small one: despite my fear of adding new medications to my existing regiment, I moved forward knowing that finding the source of this debilitating pain is more important than any number of pills.
I think it's important to recognize when we have acted on courage. To identify what it is we are afraid of, to identify what is important. If we strive to act courageously, to act when we find that what is important, is so much more important than the fear we hold onto. Then, We acted courageously.