Being afraid and doing it anyway. That’s what they say courage is all about. I’m sure most people don’t see themselves as courageous. I think because the idea of being afraid and doing it anyway is often associated with enormous, heroic action.
In fact, I would pretty much consider myself the opposite of courageous and always have. I get all spazzed out if I’m late to things. I am endlessly nervous about missing a flight somehow, despite never once having had this occur. I’m paralyzed by moments of having to make choices and decisions… spending what most people would probably consider a ridiculous amount of time weighing the pros and cons and potential outcomes of each possible choice. I take too many things too seriously too much of the time. And of course, I’m constantly afraid people are going to die and I’ll regret some choice I made somehow...
I’ve been talking to my sister more about nervousness the past year or so. One of the good things to come out of Drew’s death is that she and I have gotten much closer. So we have been on this journey together now seven years, discovering things that we share in common.
Now, we are talking about my big sister by 12 years here. To me, she has always had her shit together. She has always seemed rational and calm and totally in charge. She has seemed like she makes decisions easily and knows what she wants. And she has never, ever, needed ME for something.
And then there is me. As a child, I once had a piece of seaweed touch my leg in the ocean and I wouldn’t get in the water again for another few years. Years guys…and it wasn’t like it was my first beach trip. I grew up on the gulf coast and the beach was a weekend ritual. While I’m not able to fully embrace the ocean and all its seaweed, I’m still not so different as an adult.
Imagine my surprise as my sister and I began talking more, and I realized - nope, she is totally and precisely as nervous about life as I am. She is nervous about things I’m not even nervous about in fact - like driving in unfamiliar places and going in for annual doctor checkups. Her mind formulates horrific outcomes at lightning speed - just like me.
Here I was thinking that she was a fearless sort of person. The sort that rolls through life and whatever it doles out and never gets all too worked up over it. How completely cool to discover that we are exactly the same. This person who I thought was fearless is actually something even better - she is courageous. Because courage isn’t about not having fear. It’s about having all the fears and deciding to face the scary stuff instead of just avoiding it. It’s about sitting in uncomfortable or painful stuff and making it through and continuing on with your life.
It’s no surprise that she and I are both nervous people. We were young when our mom died, and we believe fully that this is a large part of what formed us into being so nervous about the world. I guess we learned young that anything can change, at any moment, and your whole life can be altered forever. Knowing that at the ages of 9 and 21 - how could it not shape you?
So this is all really to lead you up to something that happened the other week. My sister finally went in to have genetic testing done to see about potential mutations that could lead to cancers. Another enormous shared fear we have (our mom died from breast cancer) and have both been avoiding getting done for a few years now. Suddenly this person whom I have always envisioned going calmly and nonchalantly into her mammograms each year… called me on the way to the doctor. She called ME. For the first time in my life, my big sister needed me. My big sister was nervous, and she was still doing the damn thing, and she called me.
Suddenly being a nervous person didn’t seem like such a bad thing to me anymore. It didn’t seem so much like some abnormal quality I developed - but more like a normal reaction to normal life stuff. I started to realize, for all my nervousness about life and death and the myriad of disasters I create in my mind, I’m probably not any more nervous than just about anyone. In fact, I think it changed my viewpoint that there are nervous people and fearless people. I don’t think I believe that at all anymore. There are just nervous people who hide it well and nervous people who don’t.
A lot of the time I probably hide it well, just like my sister does. Just like a lot of us do. A lot of the time I might come off like I know what I’m doing and have my shit together too. Only I don’t. Not even a little bit. And really no one does I figure. I’m starting to think we’re all just nervous people trying to manage. Maybe we’re not living fearlessly, but we’re definitely living courageously. The very fact that we’re here still, dealing with life and kids and illnesses and new loss and more fear and trying to figure it all out after our worlds have been shattered is about as courageous as it gets. So maybe we’re not all nervous people even. Maybe, we’re all really courageous people. And maybe it’s hard to own that word for ourselves… but it gets easier when someone else shows us their courage. An ordinary moment in a doctor’s office calling your sister because you’re nervous… that’s incredibly courageous. That’s not something to sweep under the rug. It’s everyday courage like that that gets us through and connectus us.