There has been a lot of talk about courage since Caitlyn Jenner came out. What is “real” courage, what isn’t. Who gets to define it, who doesn’t. Who’s a good role model and who isn’t.
I like that. I like that there’s a lot of talk about it. Debate is good. What I don’t like is all of the personal insults being thrown around by both sides of the debate.
But debate is good.
One of the standard measures for courage includes brawn: a soldier, a firefighter. Not all courage, though, requires muscles, and to say that one thing is courageous does not set in stone a single definition of courage.
Courage consists of going beyond fear. Not being unafraid, but looking it in the eye and plowing through it. Fear is a line that divides us from where we are *here* to where we could be *there.*
It’s a big, fat, scary line, but it is just a line. And courage merely a step that crosses over that line.
Just a step. One single step.
Very few things are black and white. In fact, even “black and white” isn’t black and white. Colors exist on a spectrum. Colors aren’t binary. But somehow we’ve become convinced that things are absolute: either something is or it isn’t.
But because of this binary thinking, we often assume an unspoken part of a statement that may not have even been intended in the first place.
And we all know what ass-u-me does.
A perfect example is “Black lives matter.” By saying “black lives matter,” no one (to my knowledge) is implying “…and no other lives matter.” They’re saying that, despite current circumstances where black men and women are being killed at astronomically high rates, sometimes by persons of authority, black lives do, in fact, matter.
It is not diminishing “all other lives” by stating “black lives matter.” It is not saying “black lives are the only lives that matter.”
If there’s any binary there, if there’s any opposition there, it stands in opposition to the death rate, to the violence. NOT in opposition to other lives.
You may or may not think that what Jenner did was courageous, or that she deserves to be called a role model. But in a society that has such a huge rate of bullying and suicide and violence targeted at ALL people who are different, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in particular, publicly stepping up and identifying herself as someone who is part of that population, making herself known and possibly a target of potential violence and bullying, is, at the VERY least, just a little bit courageous.
Yes, courage is most certainly displayed when soldiers hold a front, when firefighters go into the blaze, when police officers save lives. But it’s also displayed in small, often unnoticed ways that rarely get mentioned and never, ever get fanfare.
Like when someone who is socially phobic attends a party. Or when someone who is contemplating suicide says, “Not today.” Or when someone who is terrified of embarrassment speaks in front of a crowd. Or stands up for someone who’s being bullied.
All of these, and more, are examples of courage. The big, fat, scary line looks like different things to different people, but fear is exactly the same in all circumstances: a big, fat, scary line separating the safe from the unsafe.
To say one thing is courageous does not in any way diminish or negate someone else’s courageous act. It is not one OR the other.
Grace, on the other hand, is something beyond courage. It is something illuminating and resplendent.
One of the definitions of grace, courtesy of Google is “simple elegance or refinement of movement.”
Simple elegance or refinement, not just of movement, but of action. Of being.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting many people whom I’d call “full of grace,” (including one I called Grace), and not in a biblical-definition sort of way, although I’m certain they were full of that as well.
One of them was a lady I worked with many years ago. She had terminal cancer, and was, without exception, full of strength and humor, even at her frailest. She had been asked if she were going to sue her doctor; there had been several issues which, had they been addressed, might have kept her from becoming terminal. Her response? “I only have so much energy. I’m using it all to fight the cancer, and I have none left over for blame or grudges.”
At that time in my life, I bore so many grudges and carried so much blame I couldn’t count that high. I’m pretty sure someone with a PhD in accounting couldn’t count that high.
I was absolutely floored. Even more so when, from her hospital bed, she trained the people who would replace her. I didn’t get the privilege to witness that, but after each of their training sessions, the “replacements” were in tears.
She was a spit-fire and full of spunk. Raucous and rambunctious, and she had one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. She was all that and more.
And she was the epitome of grace.
Maybe it’s a sort of enlightenment; after all, there is a “state of grace.” And it can’t be unilaterally defined. It IS elegance. It IS refinement. But it’s so much more.
I guess grace is kind of like pornography. Can’t quite define it, but we know it when we see it.
We need more courage in this world, in all of its forms. And we need the grace to understand that it doesn’t always look the same, and that in recognizing one person’s courage, no one is diminishing another’s.
The more we discover we have in common, the more likely solutions to the problems plaguing our neighborhoods, our states, our nations are to be found.
The more we have the courage to act with grace when dealing with those who disagree with us, whatever the topic, the more likely we to come together, and in doing so, discover that we are not each other’s enemies,
In fact, we may just prove to be each other’s heroes.
And that requires both courage and grace.
There’s a parable about a Zen Buddhist monk that, for the life of me, I cannot recall the source. But it goes something like this:
A Zen master had been teaching a small group of students on top of a mountain for many years. When his students heard that Ghenghis Khan was invading their country and putting all of the holy men to death, they begged him to leave.
“Master,” they pleaded with him, “please leave with us. The Khan is coming and you will surely perish.”
“I cannot leave,” the Master replied. “My home is here atop the mountain.”
They begged him many times, but each time the Master refused. When the students realized he could not be swayed, they left, and the Master wished them well.
And then the Master meditated. He sat to meditate, and meditated for several days without food or drink. When the Khan found him, he ran his horse at full speed until he was right before the Master.
“Do you know, old man,” Ghenghis Khan said, “that I could run you through with my sword without blinking an eye?”
The Master opened his eyes. “Do you know, honored Khan, that I could be run through without blinking an eye?”
The mighty Ghenghis Khan was so stunned, he immediately dropped to his knees before the Master and begged forgiveness.
Courage AND grace.
Abraham Lincoln said, ““We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Two of those better angels have names, and they are Courage and Grace.
[Lincoln quote from Goodreads, citing Great Speeches / Abraham Lincoln: with Historical Notes by John Grafton ]