We tend to think that the existence of fear (particularly in abundance) means we must have a lack of courage. Despite having heard countless times that courage is always found within, there’s still a governing part of our minds that believes courage has to be acquired. I believed that for most of my life; I believed it a year ago when I decided to finally pursue courage once and for all, and I believed it seven months ago when I really began to put that decision into action. But somewhere along the way I’ve realized two things: one, courage looks different on everyone. Our idea of what courage is, what it looks and sounds like, varies. Widely. And two, that part of me that was misunderstanding courage had a name: that part was fear.
I know fear all too well because it’s loud. It flails its arms helplessly and pleads against the outlandish creativity and its little offspring dreams to stay quiet, stay where it’s safe. It pleads with courage to stay there, too, because as far as fear is concerned you just never can tell when courage will do something foolish and get you into a situation that will cause you untold embarrassment. And once that happens, courage will leave you there, and fear will be the only one to keep you company. Oh, except shame. And regret. And anguish. Its kin.
But courage doesn’t really leave. It just does what fear, in its blind panic, has trained it so well to do: it gets quiet. The work, then, is to call it back out, gently, and to grow valiant in the knowledge that it’s just as strong and just as reliable even if it doesn’t shake your bones with its volume.
Mary Anne Radmacher wrote, “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” I’ve written that down, memorized it, and developed it as a sort of mantra, something of a courage-philosophy. But one thing I’ve learned is that it’s a practice. I don’t say those words to myself and think I’ve won or lost my struggle based on their ability to make me instantly more comfortable. Instead, I say those words as a way to acknowledge courage in its solitude, to call it out a little bit each time, and as a reminder to myself to get to know the place where it lives.
My courage may be a spectacularly well-trained quiet courage, and learning that has brought me closer to it.