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Common bravery

Posted in Life & Love

Kenny Scharf muralsWondrous is my favorite word. Its meaning is identical to wonderful but wondrous sounds fuller, its intention more poetic. To my ears, it implies even more splendor and surprise. Wondrous is how I describe the city I live in. Wondrous are the stories that hide behind faces we see every day, the ones we don’t stop for second thoughts.

N is one of those faces, an uncommonly beautiful, wide-eyed, willowy nurse with a ready smile and a welcoming personality, someone you would want by your bedside. N and I exchange pleasantries, when we cross paths most weeks, sometimes a small chat. I like her. The story behind her face has to do with two heart transplants she had to endure. Months and months spent in a hospital, weak and hopeful. We exchanged our stories briefly: some details poured out, a picture came to emerge.

“People would visit me in the hospital and would tell me I was brave because I seemed happy. But what choice did I have? I wasn’t being brave. I was simply dealing with what I had been dealt.”

I recognized that swagger. I felt exactly the same every time someone told me I was brave because I could talk about my cancer matter of fact; because I seemed somewhat intact.
“What choice do I have but to get on with it?” I would answer.

Bravery, to me, always implied a choice and the word was beginning to grate. I am not brave. A firefighter entering a burning building to save another person is brave. A soldier running through sniper fire to shield a comrade is brave. A child standing up to bullying is brave. A woman denouncing her rapist is brave. They all have a choice not to yet they do it because they feel, at heart, it is the right thing to do. Dealing with medical treatment is not a choice – the alternative leaves little room for maneuvering. Stop calling me brave.

N, and the story behind her beautiful and sunny face, gave me pause enough to re-evaluate bravery. I was compelled to look up the exact definition of brave which is “able to face and endure danger or pain” with a secondary (literary) meaning that lit me up “splendid, spectacular, admirable”.

Kenny ScharfIn a lyrical piece in The Irish Times, Ruth Fitzmaurice writes about dealing with her husband’s motor neuron disease, which has left him completely immobile, and how she finds solace and the will to go on.

My husband is a wonder to me but he is hard to find. I search for him in our home. He breathes through a pipe in his throat. He feels everything but cannot move a muscle. I lie on his chest counting mechanical breaths. I hold his hand but he doesn’t hold back. His darting eyes are the only windows left. I won’t stop searching. My soul demands it and so does his. Simon has motor neuron disease, but that’s not the dilemma, at least not today. Be brave.”

To be locked inside one’s body and mind requires enormous bravery to endure. To watch and care for and love such an individual without losing oneself also requires exceptional bravery.
Maybe the beauty of bravery is that it’s intrinsic to human nature, a by-product of our innate will to live and our ability to withstand whatever it is so we can go on. At different times in our lives, we will all be called to draw from our bravery – some more than others.

N, it turns out you were actually brave. It’s in the wondrous make-up of sentient beings, what helps us get through. If we can remember how those moments felt, how acceptance became easy and apply it consciously to other sticky areas of our lives, we might sail through more storms more intact.

Images by Kenny Scharf, whose work is currently on view at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles until May 22, 2016.

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11 Comments

  1. I think some people also say it because they can’t imagine being in your shoes (people can’t until it happens) and so they are in awe that you function, nap, joke, buy groceries…that the world doesn’t stop, basically. I think it’s also a compliment of a different kind. I think people are probably saying “Wow, you’re still fun to be around” because they imagine they would be in tears and inflicting their misery on everyone who came too close. I think it says more about the person who’s saying it sometimes, and their fears, than the person they’re saying it to…

    March 30, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      What you say is very insightful and I know that every comment was meant from the heart (or for lack of anything else to say) and that it said more about the fears of the person expressing it. Sometimes I could just smile and thank them but, as well functioning as one can be during times of stress, there were days when I barked back. I hope I didn’t push away too many well intentioned acquaintances…

      March 31, 2016
      |Reply
  2. silvia
    silvia

    Absolutely bravery is in the tiny little actions that we didn’t suspect we’d be capable of. And more than brave I wish for myself to be able to be resilient. This is a word I’m very fond of and only a few years ago it made its entrance in my vocabulary. But I fully understand what you’re talking about and I love and subscribe your point of view

    March 29, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Resilience is the eloquent version of “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on”. What makes you think you are not capable of it or haven’t done it over and over again?

      March 30, 2016
      |Reply
  3. Sue Wildish
    Sue Wildish

    Bravery is in the small things. Not letting unfairness pass, or insult go unheard, or violence allowed. Added together all those small things become a decency. Same concept as picking up dog poop. Lovely post. xxx

    March 29, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I suppose it all starts with dirt, doesn’t it? Whenever I suppress the urge to speak up, I think of you. You gave me that, the courage to not shut up – if it was the only thing you ever gave me, that would been enough. So now it’s your fault I am accused on a regular basis of having a big mouth.

      March 30, 2016
      |Reply
  4. I suppose stoicism might come into it a little bit…?

    I do like that secondary meaning – all words that I like: splendid, spectacular, admirable. And I do agree that “wondrous” sounds more poetic than “wonderful”

    March 29, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I love that some of you have me reach for my Oxford again, to look for the underpinnings of words like resilience and stoicism – it appears stoicism implies, not just fortitude, but also self-control .

      March 30, 2016
      |Reply
      • Glad I could return the favour – I’m regularly double-checking definitions of words from your thought-provoking posts!

        “Fortitude” is another favourite of mine! Believe it or not, it was part of the motto of my primary (elementary) school. What a thing to instil in young minds!

        March 30, 2016
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  5. What a beautiful post! Very inspirational.

    March 29, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Very kind!

      March 30, 2016
      |Reply

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