Courage? My heart skips a beat at that word, and I envision mountain climbers scaling mount Kilimanjaro, hands pumping in victory! I see someone hang gliding over a cliff and I can hardly breathe!
But I have come to believe that big Courage with a capital C is not what courage is always about. I think courage that creeps on one step at a time is where unheralded courage mostly lives.
Often when clients enter my therapy room, they say something to the effect, “you’re going to think I am a horrible person” or “I don’t know what is wrong with me; I can’t do anything right!” From the depths of my heart, I often look at them and say, “I don’t know your whole story yet, but I know you are a person of courage.” There is usually a stunned look and “How can you even say that? You don’t know what I have done!” I look them directly in their eyes and say, “I know that you have made the decision to enter this room and begin therapy. Whatever else is going on in your life, this step has taken great courage.”
Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” The small seeds are planted one by one and then one day there is a bud peeking its head out that wasn’t there yesterday. Then one morning that little bud has become a vibrant orange and yellow zinnia! Success! Hands pumping in the air!
The climber tops the mountain— the last step. It was the grueling hours of practicing in the blazing sun and freezing snow that sowed the seeds for success. It was the hours spent earning the money for the equipment that would keep him safe. It was the hours getting his body in shape to survive the climb while his friends were partying. These were the seeds of courage.
The courage is in assembling the small pieces, taking the first steps. I have often worked with women who feel that they have “lost themselves” and are just performing expected roles. I have often asked them, “Do you ever go out to a restaurant by yourself? Do you ever go to the movies alone?” More often than not, the answer is “No, I would be too embarrassed! It would look like I didn’t have any friends.” Their first assignment is then to eat in a restaurant or go to a movie they really want to see alone. Often this takes weeks, sometimes months, to accomplish this task. This has often been the first small step for many women in beginning to find their authentic selves again.
I think of men and women who were physically or sexually abused as children. It takes great courage just to name that abuse and begin the arduous steps to healing! I think of the courage it takes for a studious little boy to finally tell his athletic family that he doesn’t want to play sports. I think of the courage it takes for an athletic little girl to tell her intellectual family that she likes sports more than books. I think of the courage it took for a friend of mine from a strict Southern Baptist family to come to the realization that he was gay and, taking a deep breath, dared to tell his family this truth.
Yes, I have had those moments of courage with the big C—such as being caught on top of the Taos Pass in New Mexico in a blizzard with no visibility and somehow arriving safely at the bottom with the Rangers running out of their station and screaming, “LADY!! You DIDN’T just come down off that mountain! NO WAY!!” But the things in my life that have most changed me have been those everyday decisions where I held my breath and chose an uncomfortable step that somehow enlarged who I was.
John O’Donahue says, “We seldom notice how each day is a holy place, where the Eucharist of the ordinary happens.” Just as the bread and wine somehow miraculously become more than bread and wine and become agents of healing, so can those ordinary decisions become holy and begin to enlarge us into the person we were created to be.
Is there one tiny step that you can take today that might begin to forge a path in the direction that your heart wants to go?