Many years ago, I met a woman whose story was quite remarkable.
Back in the 70s, she found herself raising two young boys on her own. Her husband left one day never to return and her parents had disowned her some years before for marrying said man. (It was because she was white and he was black.) Despite receiving no support—financial or otherwise—and earning a modest teacher’s salary, she managed to raise two upstanding young men who went on to graduate from elite universities.
I knew her story because her older son was a classmate. When I met her, I said, “You’re a brave lady!”
In response, she merely smiled and said, “Nope. I am not brave. I just did what I had to do to make sure we survived.”
Despite her claims to the contrary, I still consider her brave.
Also, I’ve met others with similar stories of struggle who all said that while they didn’t feel brave at the time, they ultimately had to be because the circumstances required it of them.
While not all of us may have such dramatic stories, there are times when we are called on to be brave even when we don’t feel like it—when, if we had the option, we would gladly run away and hide from the world.
However, when the time comes and we have to step up to the plate, it’s important to keep some things in mind. While we may not become Superman or Superwoman, we nonetheless can make it slightly easier by keeping the following in mind:
Acknowledge that what is happening is difficult and may even be the hardest thing we’ve ever faced.
Sometimes there is a tendency to act macho in these situations. For example, when my father died six weeks after the birth of my son I told myself, “I am not the first person to have ever lost a parent. Others have been in worse circumstances and survived.”
While this is true, there is the danger that we will repress emotions or minimize what is happening. Others may have indeed been through worse, but we aren’t talking about others. Rather, this is a time when it truly is all about you. Self-pity has become something we are conditioned to think of as bad all the time, but sometimes a little self-pity is necessary and right. If it helps, think of it as self-compassion.
Don’t mistake brave for stoical.
When I was a child, I remember seeing clips of Jacqueline Kennedy at the funeral of her husband, President John Kennedy, and the adults around me commented on how brave she was because she never once broke down in tears. While Jackie was brave and it’s amazing how composed she was, that isn’t the only way to show bravery. Actually, what always impressed me the most was how Jackie tried to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible following the tragedy. Based on numerous bios I read, right before the funeral she had a birthday celebration for her son John Jr’s 3rd birthday and suggested that her daughter, Caroline, write a letter to her beloved father which was included in his casket. She also reportedly openly cried in private.
The point is, brave is not just about outside appearances. Nor does one size fit all.
Sometimes the bravest moments occur when we are vulnerable and showing our true feelings.
Have role models.
Sometimes it can be good to ask: What would _______ do? (Going back to the Jacqueline Kennedy example, I often wondered what she would do when I was dealing with several stressful events at once last year.) Even if we don’t know exactly, we can usually guess. In my case, I told myself that Jackie would tell herself that this too would pass.
Believe it or not, that gave me a sense of calm when I thought of it.
Of course, a role model doesn’t have to be public figure from the past. There are many role models in real life. If you know some and are able to reach out to them, by all means do so. Now is the time to take all the offers of help that you can get.
In closing, sometimes we are called on to be brave when we least expect it or want to be. In times like that, it’s important to have some perspective. True bravery isn’t always about being physically strong or even being noticeable. Many times we only recognize bravery in ourselves and others after everything is all said and done. Sometimes the bravest things any of us can ever do is just go through a crisis and come out alive.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Catherine Monkman