The one thing I’ve always known about courage is that you don’t need to be brave unless you’re afraid. If jumping out of an airplane is no big deal for you, then it doesn’t take courage to strap on your parachute and leap. It’s just something cool that you’re doing. But if you’re terrified of jumping and keep imagining your terrible and bloody death when you reach the ground, well, then you have something to be brave about.
What I’ve been less clear about is what courage really is and where it comes from. I do so many things I’m afraid of because I don’t feel like I have a choice. Take shots, for instance. I’m really scared of shots, especially the Tetanus shot, but I dutifully go in and receive said shot when I need it. In fact, I’m probably more dutiful about receiving it on schedule than someone who is less afraid of it. But is it courage if I don’t have a choice?
I’ve been having a lot of problems with my back tooth over the past several weeks, and last weekend my injury came to a head. I woke up in the middle of the night in simply excruciating pain. It was hard for me to breathe, and involuntary tears streamed down my face. My heart rate accelerated and my chest felt like it would explode. So much pain to be caused by such a small part of my body. In those moments, my nerve completely broke. I would have done anything to make the pain stop.
The pain eventually receded, the Ibuprofen kicked in, my nerve came back, and there I was refusing to take the Codeine I’d been prescribed. But that moment of sheer panic and helplessness made me realize something.
Courage is the choices we make every day. Courage is my conscious decision to go to the doctor’s office and get that stupid Tetanus shot even though I know my arm’s going to hurt for the next week or two. Courage is going to get a root canal instead of letting the infection spread. Courage is allowing myself to fall in love again after suffering from a broken heart. Courage is saying what I really think instead of being bland and inoffensive and nice. Courage is doing what I want to do even when I know people will be mean or insensitive about it and I’m going to care that they don’t understand.
When I’m about to force myself through something scary, I sometimes forget that I do have a choice. I’ve just already made it.