When I was 21, I was in a bad car accident. My mother and I – miraculously – survived, but we were in hospital for months and it took years to ‘recover’ in any true sense.
We had lots of visitors. You could tell the ones who had some level of understanding because they said nothing. They showed up, loved up and shut up.
Many people unfortunately did feel the need to speak:
“Wow, you were lucky, it could have been so much worse.”
“You are so brave.”
“You’re coping so well, I couldn’t cope if I were in your shoes.”
“You’re lucky that you’re so young.”
These comments were meaningless and made me sweat. However well-intentioned, they presupposed a choice I had not had, and minimized the reality of what had happened by comparing it to what hadn’t. It made me feel guilty.
It’s true I wasn’t dead and I was young, but I didn’t feel lucky nor was I actually being brave or coping well. Being there without choice didn’t make me brave or able to cope.
During the accident, I wasn’t brave. When I faced what looked to me like certain death, I felt supernaturally calm but not brave.
I also wasn’t brave after the accident, I just lay there and survived.
I did become brave however, when I recognized I had a choice. When I saw the far more devastating injuries of those around me and knew I was going to survive. It gave me context. Not just about where I’d been or where I was, but also about where I was going.
I had hope and I had purpose, so I then chose to be brave and press forward. I’m not sure it’s possible to choose courage without hope and purpose, is it? And courage requires action.
Look at the soldier who goes to war because he sees purpose in it. That is a courageous action. The bereaved mother who gets up in the morning because her other children still need breakfast. That is a courageous action. The widower who knows there’s still work to be done, life to be lived, ways to contribute before the end, so they choose to get on with it. That is a courageous action.
Context offers us choices in how we respond to circumstance, and courage is one we have to act upon.
We choose courage by persevering not just existing. And others notice. By choosing courage, we reveal that even when darkness closes in and we may be awake for most of it, we still believe there’s a new day coming. It’s still worth it. Our actions show ourselves as well as others that we know there is yet hope to press forward. And so we choose to.
That is courage.