My arms were linguine as I climbed the high-dive platform ladder at the Northern Michigan University pool. I was nine years old. My dad tread water below me, black hair stuck to his forehead, mustache sagging and shiny.
I stood three feet back from the edge of the platform, gazing over the eight-lane pool, wibbly silhouettes of submerged kids holding their breath as long as they could. Marco, someone yelled. A boy tossed a basketball through the poolside hoop. Polo.
I inched toward the edge of the platform, woozy, letting go of the railing. Sara Johnson and Kris Nault were behind me in line, expecting me to jump. I knew THEY would jump. I looked at the lifeguard, a college kid slouching in the chair, sinewy arm draped over the red foam rescue tube printed with a bold white cross. He gave me the thumbs up and I inhaled sharply, took two quick steps forward before my long legs cleared the edge, still making running circles as I plummeted through the chlorinated air.
There is no other feeling like falling, no truer or more complete form of letting go. The body does not want to fall. The brain must tell it to do so, must believe that there is something to be gained by the falling, something worth experiencing or achieving. The mind must DECIDE to be brave when the arms and legs are weak, to initiate forward motion when toes grip firmly the foundation of security.
I’ve been called brave my entire life. Fearless, my mom said, shaking her head as I shimmied to the tops of boulevard trees, stood in line for the fastest, highest rides at the carnival, waded into the Narrows at Zion National Park.
But for me, brave does not mean fearless. Brave means looking fear in the eyes.
Brave says to fear, You can’t control me or stop me from doing what I want to do or need to do. You can’t suffocate me.
Brave doesn’t turn away, and it sure as hell doesn’t run. Brave knows that no matter how intensely FEAR envelopes, no matter how hot it burns, it will not be the last impression.
Brave knows that there is an other side to come out on – –
an I DID IT – –
an I FACED THAT SUPER HARD THING AND I AM MORE THAN OK.
Brave isn’t a trait, it’s a choice. When we choose brave, we rank experience over comfort. We choose to touch and see and hear something unfamiliar. If I didn’t choose brave, I would have missed the sunrise view from Half Dome in Yosemite. The velcro sensation of small-mouth bass teeth in my thumb. Backpacking on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with a three-month-old strapped to my back. Whitewater rafting on the Snake River. Driving a rental car on (the left side of!) highways all over Australia. Holding a Pineapple Sea Cucumber in my bare hands while scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef . Drifting over Cairns in a hot air balloon. Jumping off Black Rocks cliff into the chilly waters of Lake Superior. Driving a motorcycle down Brickyard Road on a July evening. Leaving my job to stay home with my kids. Honestly, I probably would have missed grabbing a pen and writing these words.
When we choose brave, we value outcomes more than emotions. We approach a friend who hurt us in an effort to restore a relationship. We admit that we have a problem and need support to overcome it. We stand against injustice, despite intimidation.
We force our eyes open. We swallow the lump in our throat and pull in a nourishing breath, then will the body into motion.
Brave is a choice, and it looks different for all of us. Maybe your brave is . . .
signing up for a fitness class or driving confidently in rush hour traffic,
stepping onto the dance floor at a friend’s wedding reception,
learning to swim or ride a bicycle because you’ve always wanted to but were too AFRAID,
booking a flight to a place where you don’t speak the language,
finally auditioning for a role in a community theater production,
cutting off your hair.
going to church without makeup.
Maybe brave is telling your spouse about the scary things going on inside your head. Asking your boss for a long-deserved raise. Calling your sister after years of separation.
Maybe it’s speaking just one sentence–
I was wrong.
What you did really hurt me.
I love you.
Maybe it’s carrying your son into the hospital for his first treatment or putting your daughter on the chair lift at the ski hill. Maybe it’s allowing your son to climb the rock wall on his own, or soar as high as he desires on the swingset – raising the next generation of BRAVE.
If I have learned one thing about brave, it’s that it doesn’t just happen. We pursue it. Often, it’s not easy (ok, it’s NEVER easy), but the experience, the outcome, makes the effort worthwhile. The best part is that every time we choose BRAVE, we grow a bit of assurance to choose it again the next time and the time after that, until what was once a high-dive platform is now just a regular old diving board that we can step onto with a smile and a confident whisper–
I’VE GOT THIS.