“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” - Frederick Buechner
In a few days I turn thirty. I don’t fear death as much as I fear staying alive another decade. If the thirties are half as hard as the twenties, I’m going to need an emotional heart replacement. Life’s wars have aged my spirit tremendously, though at times I’m still the little girl who wove flower crowns for her doll.
“Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.” – C.S. Lewis
Which accomplishments count?
Shouldn’t I have accomplished major goals by now? Run a marathon, climbed Mount Everest, or at least done something considered moderately successful by someone outside my immediate family?
I guess. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in less than three years with almost straight “A”s (except for that “C” in Aerobics class–but I don’t talk about that). I traveled a decent portion of the world from Cozumel to Casablanca, from Alaska to Okinawa. I love my career.
But what do you do when people refuse to talk about the experiences that marked you most deeply? How do you respond when the things that made you who you are embarrass or disgust people? College impacted me. Seeing the world changed me. But getting married and then divorced a half dozen years ago–that was a milestone. And raising a son as a single mom is an accomplishment, whether or not others view it as such. Staying alive one minute at a time when death is the least painful option? That counts too.
Courage through trauma
There are two books popular right now which insightfully handle issues I touch every day. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins has layers of brilliance in her portrayal of various characters’ responses to trauma. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating to some readers and that’s partly because it’s real. Between the amnesia and the nightmares I often play my own version of “real or not real” like Peeta. One reason I’ve read this book numerous times is to feel less alone in how I’ve processed trauma and grief. I rarely read anything where the response to pain feels so familiar.
Divergent by Veronica Roth shows the blurring edge of courage. It’s rarely found in its pure, undiluted form: most of us mix a bit of genuine bravery with selfish risk-taking and pretending we’re not afraid and call it courage. The character Four fascinates me because people ignore the moments when he is authentically courageous while focusing on his acts of false bravado–as if that’s all he really is.
“It’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest….fear doesn’t shut you down. It wakes you up….becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that’s the point.” – Four to Tris, Divergent
Four understands courage more than many of us. It’s not a freedom from fear, though Four was afraid of only four things and continually fought them in an attempt to conquer them. Courage is a willingness to live facing your worst nightmares every day for the rest of your life. It’s a willingness to live a life much more painful than death for the sake of someone else…for as long as God asks you to.
The courage to keep fighting
You can hear this repeatedly but until you have to walk it out, it’s not courage. Until you have to fight not to sign off, and there’s nothing left in it for you, it’s still not pure and undiluted. The only reason I’m still alive is because a little boy needs me to keep fighting. Nothing else is a strong enough motivator.
Courage is action, not emotion. As I turn thirty I’m renewing my commitment to the fight. So I got a henna tattoo with the Chinese symbol for courage at its base. I like it; it may be a repeat experience. Because in my thirties beautiful things will happen. Terrible things will happen. And I will be brave.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” - Paulo Coelho, Alchemist
“You have listened to fears, Child,” said Aslan. “Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?” – C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian