A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege of throwing a baby shower for my only sister and my very first niece-to-be in Florida. Amidst a crazy weekend of decorating, cooking, and entertaining, I binge-read the Divergent trilogy, a teen series not dissimilar to The Hunger Games. Sometimes you just need 1,500 pages of nail-biting action and adventure set in an Orwellian dystopian Chicago to keep you awake all night and make you haggard and cranky for your plane flight back to NYC.
Without giving too much away (the movie comes out March 21st!), the society of these books is split into 5 factions. You grow up in one faction, but upon your coming of age you can choose any faction you want. Our heroine ends up in the Dauntless faction, which holds the traits of courage and bravery above all else. And by the same token, fear plays a huge role- our characters have to be in all sorts of wild situations to demonstrate and build their courage.
It got me to thinking about my own ideas of bravery. I am not brave when it comes to, say, killing a roach. Or eating a lobster. Or jumping off a high dive. Or singing at karaoke. And fortunately, my mettle is untested when it comes to life-threatening situations- if my video game playing abilities are any indication, I could be in serious trouble. I’ve never had to risk my life, in any way, for any reason or anybody. Is my courage like a loose, flabby muscle, atrophying with lack of exercise?
After baby-shower-extravaganza was complete, I returned to New York, taught a yoga private, and went to the debut cabaret of a very dear friend. Though I had been with her on this journey from when the show was just a twinkle in her eye, I was astonished at what she had put together. She worked with a wonderful team, yes, but the show was so clearly the fruits of her labor of love up on stage. It inspired me to put together a show of my own, a thought I have avoided for years out of fear (fear that I’m not interesting or talented enough to ask for an hour’s worth of someone’s time, fear that nobody will show up). But seeing her up there, facing her nerves and asking herself to move beyond them, made me believe I could do the same thing.
In Divergent (did you think I was done with the YA lit references?), the Dauntless faction has a manifesto to describe and confirm its beliefs. The only excerpt we get in the book is this:
“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
Ordinary acts of bravery. Now that I look with fresh eyes, they seem to be everywhere. Ordinary bravery is smiling at a stranger on the subway or taking someone’s hand on a first date. It is going on a job interview or an audition, facing the possibility of rejection with shoulders squared. It is creating your own work and inviting others to share in the intimacy of your world. Facing your insecurities and walking into a yoga studio, a pottery class, or a piano lesson and becoming a student all over again. It is the willingness to turn yourself upside down, physically or metaphorically, for the chance to discover something new. It is becoming a stranger in an unfamiliar setting. Venturing away from home. Bringing a child into the world and assuming complete responsibility for the life of another.
We are brave beyond measure. And somehow, knowing I already am gives me the strength to do more, to dig in when I’d prefer to run away, to choose discomfort when avoidance is the easy option, to choose the most courageous act of all- vulnerability- as often as I can.