I was a few days into Resident Assistant training before the start of my junior year of college when my Residence Hall Director, Sam, pulled me aside. My father had just had a heart attack, was in the hospital and I needed to call my mom to make arrangements to fly home to New York. As I left Sam’s office that day, visibly shaken, he offered these parting words- Be brave. I have always remembered those words though I don’t think I fully understood at the time why they were so appropriate and important.
Last night, during Shabbat services at my synagogue, I was struck by a line in the prayer for healing the sick. The prayer says, “May the Source of strength who blessed the ones before us help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” While I was singing these words I was also remembering Sam’s advice from 1994 and contemplating the role that courage plays in our lives. Why is it is so important to have courage?
After giving it some thought, here’s what I have come up with:
Courage is important because it allows us to experience the best parts of life. Courage allows us to give our hearts fully and experience love even if it ends in heartbreak. It allows us to give 100% to a situation even if we think we might fail. Courage helps us to share our stories and make ourselves vulnerable even when we fear judgement or embarassment. It helps us take on new challenges and think about things in a new way even if it makes us feel uncomfortable at first. Being brave aids us in reaching out to those in need despite our fears of rejection or concerns that we are not saying exactly the right thing. It gives us the strength to make a change when it’s easier to maintain the status quo. We need courage to stand up for what we believe and speak out in the face of injustice. Without courage we could not rise above adversity and make our dreams a reality.
My husband and I have spent a considerable amount of time this past year helping our daughter overcome some fears and anxieties of her own. Her psychologist, who has been invaluable in this process, offered us this little morsel of wisdom- There will always be situations in our lives that cause us to feel anxious or fearful. However, these feelings do not have to dictate our behavior.
For me, this is key. It is not about living a life that is devoid of fear- such a life does not exist in my opinion. But if we let those feelings dictate our behaviors, actions, and decisions we will never know what we are actually capapble of both in terms of our own personal achievements and what we can do to affect change in our communities.
Acting with courage is hard. (If it came easy we probably would not think to pray for it.) When I look at the choice between living a fear based life that will hold me back from achieving my goals, or living courageously and taking (small) steps every day towards self actualization, to me the choice is clear. It’s clear, but it’s not easy. It’s a conscious choice that has to be made every day. I’m not always good at it, and sometimes it feels uncomfortable at first, but I very rarely regret making a courageous choice. I am much more likely to regret having not done something because fear has held me back. Sometimes, even when I act with courage, I still make mistakes. Mistakes are teachable moments. The next time that opportunity arises I’ll be better prepared to handle it.
When I live courageously, I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I feel connected to my inner self, my family,and my community. I feel like I am getting what I need to feel fulfilled, and that I am also able to give back- be a better family member, friend, and neighbor. When I don’t let fear hold me back I truly do feel that my life is a blessing.
There are plenty of things to be afraid of in life. Fear of failure, heartbreak, embarassment, discomfort,injury, illness, rejection, and change (just to name a few) can hold us back from living the life we were meant to live. What is fear keeping you from doing? How do you choose to live a courageous life?