349. Being Brave

Years ago, I heard my three year old upstairs neighbor crying. He had gotten hurt outside. My wife and I heard his father say to him, “Be brave, Jimmy.” It seemed like such a strange thing to say in such a situation. The kid had gotten hurt. To us, bravery had nothing to do with it. I wanted to go upstairs and say to the father, “Be brave, Jim (Jim, Senior). A REAL man can listen to tears and be supportive when his son gets hurt.” But I wasn’t brave enough. Or it wasn’t my business. I’m not sure which.
When I was growing up, I got a message about bravery similar to the one being given to Jimmy. I don’t remember being told, “Be brave,” when I cried, but I grew up in this culture, and so to me, bravery had to do with facing pain and/or death without flinching. John Wayne was the personification of bravery. (Actually, it turns out that he was an actor, not a cowboy or World War II hero. But I’ll bet that like the rest of us, he had his moments of real bravery. And they didn’t necessarily have to do with facing death.)
I’m going to the dentist today. I don’t like going to the dentist. I don’t like pain, and so far, despite all the things dentists do to try to minimize pain, there’s always some pain involved in my dental visits. Some dentists have cute little signs in their offices. They say, “We cater to cowards.” But seriously, folks, there’s nothing cowardly about not liking pain. Pain is supposed to deliver a message, and that message won’t be received correctly if the pain is enjoyed. Pain is supposed to hurt.
I’ve been told that the pain of childbirth is the worst pain imaginable, and, of course, I have no way of knowing whether that’s true. Watching childbirth certainly didn’t make me envy mothers. It sure looked as if it was painful enough to win the prize. I think I’ll take it on faith that it’s more painful than anything I’ve experienced. But I don’t think anyone really knows how much pain anyone else is feeling. I’ve known women who gave birth to several children but were unwilling to go to the dentist.
I’ve been called brave because I enjoy life even though it’s harder than it used to be. When I first heard “brave” being used to describe me, it didn’t sound right; I wasn’t like John Wayne. I wasn’t one of five brave souls who, without regard for their own personal safety and comfort, had volunteered, for some noble cause, to become disabled. I have deep regard for my own safety and comfort. I could relate to “nice,” “talented,” “smart” – even “hard-working,” which wasn’t part of the self-image I grew up with. But “brave?” No. It didn’t sound right.
Liking compliments as I do, it didn’t take long for me to rework my definition of bravery to include my own approach to life. When a child asked John F. Kennedy how he became a war hero, he replied, “It was involuntary. They sank
my boat.” But Kennedy had already been brave. So was three year old Jimmy. So am I, and I’ll bet you are, too. We don’t have to have our boats sunk to prove it.

Comments are closed.