According to the Cowardly Lion, courage is “what makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist or the dusky dusk.” John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” And the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” Clearly, courage is a big subject. I think about it a lot.
I have spent the better part of my life standing on the edge of a high dive with my heart pounding furiously in my chest. I’ve made many a bold move while trembling in my boots. A lot of my friends describe me as “fearless,” although the truth of the matter is that I’m scared a lot of the time. Courage, in my experience, is when the desire to “go for it” is greater than the fear.
But as the Merriam-Webster definition says, courage is also the ability to endure difficulty. When my sister was undergoing chemotherapy, many people told her how courageous she was. They said the same thing to me while I was grieving the death of my baby, some twenty years ago. But all we were doing was putting one foot in front of the other, trying to find our way through painful and bewildering circumstances. What else could we do? It’s not like either of us were particularly extraordinary. Sometimes I think courage is simply the product of no other alternatives.
In our creative lives, I think that courage comes down to willingness: willingness to let the world really see you; willingness to expose your vulnerabilities; willingness to trust your own resilience and, finally, willingness to express your truth without apology. In my creative experience, courage is the love child of willingness and intention. My creative yearnings often take me out there “where angels fear to tread.” Yet if I want to realize all possibilities for expression, I have to be willing to be uncomfortable sometimes.
Courage isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice.
I’ve recently made the decision that I won’t shy away from writing about my political opinions here on this blog. I used to have a separate blog for political commentary. I was concerned that if I were too political here, it might cost me gigs or potential writing jobs. However, I found that keeping up with two blogs was extremely difficult. But more so, it became increasingly clear to me that the political activist, the writer, the jazz vocalist and the mom are not separate entities. I can’t compartmentalize my sensibilities. In the gathering political storm, I sense direct threats to my children and my family. As any mother animal would do, I respond accordingly. In my case, it starts with a roar and a blog post. I can’t worry about other people’s approval. As I said before, courage is the willingness to speak your truth without apology. Courage is also the willingness to go to any length to protect your family.
In our creative lives and beyond, every day is a stroll through the unknown. Still, we go about our business. We write. We paint. We reach out. We take chances. We submit the proposal. We go to the audition. We call for the test results. We ask him/her out for coffee. We open our hearts. We endure. We make beautiful plans in a climate of obdurate ambiguity.
Courage is necessary.
OK peeps, I’ve got the ball rolling. It’s your turn now. How do you define courage and what does it mean in your life? Can you share a story or experience about a time when you felt particularly courageous? Talk to me.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
– Anais Nin