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How to Be Brave

A two-step guide

John DeVore
Nov 8, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

I imagine Heaven is a place without fear. An angel’s wings are purely decorative but that doesn’t stop them from diving off clouds. (Seraphim bounce.) Angels love and are loved, without condition. They’re like Labrador Retrievers that way. Angels never get laid off, or dumped, or fear harm. Angels are never in danger.

Immortality is boring, but it’s secure.

Sadly, I am mortal and death swipes left on us all. I am constantly worried about what comes next. Who I am. What I should do. Whether or not I should roll the dice or just eat grocery store sushi rolls. I want to be brave. I need to be brave. I want to be remembered for never shirking a righteous battle. I hope I am. Fortune favors the bold and, therefore, roots for the brave.

I am no hero, but I know a little about bravery. I’ve seen it. I know heroes. I’ve met them. They are as surprised as anyone that they did what they did. Whether it was daring to dream, or ignoring odds, or wiping a feverish forehead and whispering “you’re going to get better” when the truth was the doctors didn’t know if they would.

The first step is simple: be afraid. It’s not that hard, really. Life is a buffet of fears: flying, grey hairs, spiders. There are monsters under the bed and in the closet and on Twitter. Take your pick. In order to be brave, you must first accept that you are not brave. No one is, until the moment they are given the choice.

So let’s talk about that moment. That nanosecond before you choose to do the scary thing even though you are scared. Do you tell them you love them? Ask for that promotion? Trust your instincts? That seemingly endless instant is called courage. And there’s a small difference between bravery and courage.

Fear wants to protect you, even from the good things in life.

Courage is facing an impossible obstacle even though it is frightening. It is being strong when one is weak. It is wobbly knees while waiting for a roller coaster. The rear door of a truck crashing closed before beginning a life-changing move. A tea kettle whistling before a conversation with a family member about who you truly are inside. Courage is the fuel that gets you to that collection of heartbeats when a decision is made.

Courage carries you to the proverbial precipice. To jump, or not to jump. But bravery is deciding to take the plunge, no matter the risk. Bravery is failing or flying. Standing up for yourself, or someone else, despite what may happen next. Bravery is taking one step forward, then two. As many as it takes.

There are real dangers in life. As President Charles Xavier once said, the only thing to fear is fear itself, and ebola. And mass shootings. And your next-door neighbor. Bravery isn’t kicking a rattlesnake. But fear doesn’t always know the difference between a diamondback and rejection, or heartbreak, or self-doubt. Fear wants to protect you, even from the good things in life. Fear doesn’t want you to bruise, emotionally, or physically. Bravery is being so present, so in your own living skin, that you can manage that fear and live.

I have not always been a brave person. I am personally terrified of singing karaoke, speaking up for myself, and the grim reaper. I can confirm, though, that the only true miracles of my life happened when I was brave. When I did the right thing for myself, and others, and didn’t care what happened. There have been times in my life when I jumped out of a metaphorical plane because I knew that love is a parachute. (My fear of flying extends to a fear of actually skydiving, but it’s at the bottom of my long bucket list.)

Here’s step two: feel what you’re feeling. Say a kind word to your reflection. Trust your heart. Close your eyes, and open them. Your hands are your grandparent's hands and they are strong. Let courage push you towards changing your life in small and big ways. And when you are presented with a choice — start over or stay, follow your dreams or settle, be who you are, not who you are expected to be — say ‘yes’ to the scary one. In the end, you’ll be thankful for all the times you said ‘yes.’

I actually don’t know if I believe in an afterlife or angels, but I don’t think it’s absurd to think that, perhaps, somewhere, in another dimension or outside time, there is a vast celestial ledger and over it broods an ancient bookkeeper tallying up the sum total of atoms split to fuel a star, pebbles peppered across the face of Mars, giggles from all the toddlers. Every moon is counted. Every raindrop. Every small moment I enjoy in this life, every laugh, belch, every fresh peach, and cold autumn rain and early morning kiss is special and numbered.

My every step, choice, hope, dream — tears shed, breaths taken, hugs given — will be recorded thusly. I do not know the purpose of this cosmic accounting book but I like to think, once the universe has imploded, everything will be added up. For eternal posterity. A final inventory of all the bits and pieces — the actions and consequences — of everything. And on that vast list of all the things that happened, it will be recorded that I was, on occasion, brave.

Written by

Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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