What Do I Do When the Person I Look Up To is the One Who Needs a Bandaid?

by Alicia Napierkowski


Bravery is defined as ‘courageous behavior or character’ but I don’t think the absolute meaning of it can ever be solidified until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. When you think of bravery, somebody’s face pops into your head, and you’re like, “yeah… Cindy Lou-Who sets the bravery threshold level for me.”

I think that’s important because when you’re growing up– your parents, or guardians, older siblings or cousins– whoever it may be that you looked up to when you were younger, represents a standard of bravery that inspires you. The world is a gargantuan place to conquer and you’re led to believe nothing can hurt you, because this person is there with a bandaid in hand when you fall off your bike the first time, or run and trip at the zoo when you’re six years old because you’re unnecessarily excited and clumsy (autobiographical fact), or brings out the ladder to get you out of the tree you’ve climbed too high to get yourself down from (this one too). Nothing can stop you because you’ve got the bravest person in the world to rely on and teach you how to tie your shoes.

Then you start to grow up and the world makes you feel small. At first, it’s offending and brings out your greatest defense mechanisms. Until suddenly, you discover the significance in your smallness because there’s a promising perspective from where you are standing. That’s where you curate a passion that drives you and brings out the best in you. Then, the world starts to challenge you a little and test your abilities on a small scale. You try to weasel under a blanket in the dark to hide and cry a bit, question yourself, then try again, or move forward. Your brave person steps in again, and tells you, “of course I would understand, I love you no matter what,” and electrocutes you like a lightning bolt because the world led you to believe you were wrong. This happens enough times for you to gain a sense of who you are, what you bring to the world, and how you respond to the world. You give yourself a “check plus” because you think you’re doing a pretty great job at being who you are, so the Earth rips open the ground around you, grabs you with its claws and holds you to its forehead and says, ‘cry for a second then try again but be bigger, be better, and don’t hesitate’ then drops you back in and tests you. So now, you either let this fester, or you take your “check plus” and apply it, seek further, and live the best you can according to whatever it means in each moment.

When I was 8 years old (and clearly an exquisitely worded writer) I left this post-it for my Dad:

Although I seem to have lost my own copy… He has kept his ever since, so no worries.

It came to my mind today after I began writing and basically represented in the smallest of terms what I’ve been taught about being brave since I was a little girl. Watching the world continuously rip open the ground particularly during my short adult life, without causing my Dad to fester has shown me that it’s possible to live the best possible way according to what any moment asks of you. From the moment he told us he had cancer, to the time he found out his cancer has metastasized, until he stood in the kitchen and told us his options for clinical trials– probably terrified– until he went through surgery from Christmas to New Years, he kept making the choice to seize each opportunity that presented itself to him. I’ve watched my Dad probably surprise the hell out of himself for the things he’s been capable of. I’ve seen him cry in pain. I’ve heard him say the words, “it’s getting worse.” I’ve watched him say it as though nothing could ever stop him. So I’ve witnessed bravery in it’s utmost sense, I’ve witnessed the world break down in front of my eyes and I’ve wondered, what do I do when my Dad is being crushed in the worst way imaginable? How am I supposed to make this better? How can I be that brave? What do I do when the person I’ve looked up to is the one who needs a bandaid? A miracle?

Exactly what he’s taught me my whole life: My best.