I met a lovely woman last week who made an impression on me. We had a conversation about her young life (she is over 85 years old now) and what I heard spoke of great courage and bravery that is so rare today. In Canada, I am lucky enough to live a safe life. Low risk, high opportunity and so I often hear of courage but cannot identify with what it truly means to me. Her story started me thinking more about it.
She had grown up in Germany and fell in love with a young man when she was 18 years old. The love was true and so compelling that when he had to move to the west coast of Canada for work, she decided to travel across to be with him. By herself. She spoke of her mother’s great distress over this prospect. At the time the only way of crossing was to take a ship and then train. The journey would take weeks.
As a mother myself, I cannot imagine the anxiety that this would create. Wanting what was best for your child and struggling not to be selfish. The mother told her daughter that she would go with her blessing if it was truly what she desired. Such courage in two forms. The young woman’s ability to speak her heart and put her feelings ‘out on the table’ for scrutiny. Her commitment to the relationship. The mother’s willingness to consider losing her daughter to a foreign country and placing her in the care of the young man.
The bravery required for such an exhausting journey into the unknown is amazing to me. This young woman travelled unescorted across the Atlantic ocean on a freighter vessel that was retro-fitted with a passenger hold. This was not the Mauritania. The ocean travel would take about 2 weeks and the land travel another week across all of Canada. She knew what she wanted, spoke her mind and set to it. There was no turning back.
I have recently heard of two distinct definitions of both courage and bravery that I thought were worth sharing. Courage is finding the strength to speak from your heart. Bravery is shown when you are putting your life on the line. (Brene Brown – The Gifts of Imperfection). So there is quite a difference. In truth, we can show great courage on a daily basis by sharing our ideas, our hopes and our dreams but by doing so, we place ourselves in a position of great vulnerability. We must face fear and risk shame.
So, how does this translate to our daily lives? To allow ourselves to truly be creative and shine through with inspiration, we must allow ourselves to be in vulnerable situations. Perhaps we do not act bravely every day (it’s quite a relief that we are not required to) but courage can be shown in any small moment of the day. In the waking moments of the dawn beside your spouse. On the hazy street corner with a stranger. On a early coffee meeting with your boss. Our moments to live fiercely and courageously present themselves every day.
Find your strength, gather your courage and live those moments.
The story I heard was that of a happy life lived for so many years. Risk taken and rewarded with love, marriage, children and grandchildren. She had promised her mother that she would be back in one year to visit. It took her 11 years to get back. She made it just after a stroke had rendered her mother non-verbal. Such a happy story but not without sacrifice. I thanked her for sharing with me, a stranger, since even this required some courage in itself.