I am weary of the Who’s the Bravest in the Land Competition that‘s been at the forefront this past week or so.
The truth is, it takes a great deal of bravery for any and all of us to be exactly who we need to be. In a society that holds us to task via its own set of expectations, as well as in our individual family microcosms, standing tall and declaring, “this is me” is often something that takes courage beyond what we can fathom even as we are doing it.
I know. I know, because I've been there and I've done that. Did I expect laurels and medals and accolades? No. Did I compare, much less expect that anyone else would compare, what I did to acts of courage shown by the men and women fighting for this country’s freedom? I did not. Did I ever once allude to the notion that what I did was as difficult as battling cancer? Never. Did I declare that I was going to change and then follow through with changing my gender, thus going through countless painful surgeries, procedures, and emotional torment? No. Did I expect that people I knew and loved would make a show of moral outrage simply because what I did went against what they believed? That I did, and that much I got. Did I expect that some of the people I loved would understand and say, “good for you, Barb… good for you”? I did, and I also got that.
But I didn't go into it thinking, “Gosh. I’m feeling so brave. I think I’ll flip my life on its ass and do something radically different just for shits and giggles.” The fact is, I didn't feel brave at the time. I didn't have a vast reserve of courage (much less self-esteem or some buried taciturn resilience even). Some people, the people who championed me changing my life, cheered me on, telling me I was brave. For me, the choice was, make a move or die. Some people saw what I did and told me I was their hero; others made it known that I was communing with the devil. All I saw was that I was trying to live my life and be the best me that I could possibly be.
What did I do? Nothing plenty of other people haven’t done. I walked out on a “perfectly good” marriage. I moved across the country with 4 suitcases and $300 dollars to my name. That’s it. I was, depending on who was doing the talking, crazy, brave, ridiculous, uncaring, courageous, ballsy, morally bankrupt, intrepid, or… the adjectives were endless. I got tired of saying, “Gosh, thanks…” Or just, “But…”
It wasn't until over a decade later that I saw what I did as bravery, that I acknowledged it took a certain amount of courage even if I didn't feel it at the time. Somebody once told me, “Courage is turning and facing the dragon even if you’re trembling in your boots.”
Courage is the 16 year old kid who stands up to his father and says, “You’re destroying this family with your drinking, Dad.” Bravery is the 3 year old being wheeled off to another round of chemo, saying, “Don’t worry, Mommy.” Courage is the 22 year old woman who does her first skydive jump in training to be a paratrooper. Bravery is the 38 year old man doing his part to keep peace in a foreign city. Courage is the shaking addict standing up in front of a group of strangers, saying, “I can’t live like this any more.” Bravery is a 65 year old man weighing the balance between fear and dreams and deciding, “This is not who I am. I am going to be a woman.”
Courage was a 36 year old woman, walking against the tide of every so-called truth she’d ever been taught, saying, “I can’t be this person. I am leaving and I am going 3000 miles away.” I may not have been part of some major battle that changed the face of the earth, or a personal battle won or lost on the whim of cells reacting to chemicals, or crawled from the wreckage of a natural disaster and helped a displaced neighbor look for their lost dog. But, who are you to compare? Who are you to judge what it took for me to do what I did? Who are you, and what is so very wrong with you that you can’t simply love a fellow human and say, “I might not agree with you, but I love that you were brave enough to be you.”
When you judge a person based upon their personal bravery and when you compare their courage to that of others, you are judging us all. Every one of us.
Because, the thing is, we are all brave. We are courageous every time we step into a slippery tub to take a shower, or crank the ignition in the car and pull out of the driveway, or strap on a pair of skis and fly down a mountainside, or put on a pair of combat boots and march into a war zone, or put ourselves under the knife for any kind of surgery, or propose to the love of our life, or face cancer, diabetes, alcoholism, heart failure, etc. We are human and for all our frailties, we gird ourselves with our hopes and dreams and desires and we move forward.
So. Can we please stop with the Who’s the Bravest in the Land Competition? It’s bullshit. We can be so much better than that.