Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.
– Raymond Lindquist
Each morning when we get out of bed we are taking a courageous step. Taking so much of our own personal strength for granted and not recognizing that even daily decisions can be courageous, we view courage as media and hyper-masculinized American Society has bottled and sold to us in limited quantities. Manufactured for us through news reels and Hollywood blockbusters, it has been neatly packaged and defined to only a limited few. And while I am not one to turn my nose up at another great, bad action flick like Mad Max or ignore the poignancy of loss, grief, and pain that can be felt when watching Lone Survivor, I do look around sometimes and ask, “what about everyone else?”
When someone points and says that person is a courageous soul, it is usually for those in uniform at the frontlines abroad or providing a public service at home. It is a title kept for the most resilient activist pushing for social change. It is the stranger who dives into flooding waters to save a drowning child. All these actions and more must be given their due. They are brave acts, even selfless acts, but they are not the only ones.
Each life is unique and precious and just like those above, impactful. Maybe not on the same level but impactful nonetheless. So what does it mean when I say dare to be courageous? It takes courage to doubt our choices, to challenge tradition and well-founded beliefs. It takes courage to make a career change in the middle of your thirties, to leave all you know behind, and start fresh. It takes courage to admit defeat. It takes courage to take that hard look in the mirror at yourself and the life around you and say “I want better.” It takes courage to be alone. What is courage? Courage is being able to step outside of your comfort zone and choosing to experience the unknown.
I have a friend, let’s call her Ann, and this week she is making one of the most courageous choices I have known any of my friends to have made. She is choosing to make a permanent life change. When I made the decision to uproot my life and move back to California, leaving friends and a good job behind, she called me brave. But today I am telling her to look in the mirror. Today and all the days forward she is the brave one. The one who helps inspire me to be better.
I have known her for the better part of a decade. Ann has spent her life in the service of others. She has spoken up for the vulnerable and weak, advocated for the marginalized, fought against stigma, and has even dared to go overseas and fight for basic human and civil rights in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Yes, Ann is brave. She is courageous. I dare anyone to look at the life she has lead and the choices she has made and say otherwise. But beneath this fierce exterior there is another, quieter part.
Ann has struggled with weight her entire life. She has tried dieting, maintained healthy eating habits, and a rigorous workout regimen. Her weight has fluctuated and despite her efforts has always yo-yoed right back up. She has been judged by her weight. In America, fat equates to laziness and ignorance. We avoid the term in all serious discussion but embrace it when used for comic relief. In a recent, candid interview with Men’s Health UK, Chris Pratt opened up about his weight gain. “I saw myself in an episode [of Parks and Rec] and in the matter of two moments very close together, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m getting fat.’ And then almost immediately I did something else and I thought, ‘Holy crap, I’ve never seen myself funnier.’ And I put the two together.”
But fat does not and, more importantly, should not always be equated with just the funny segments of our society. When we solely use it for laughter and cheap thrills, we make a mockery of the struggles thousands of people face every day. And we shame them into silence.
This week Ann will finally be getting gastric bypass surgery after years of battling her employer and health insurance company. I have heard the phrases “copout” and “taking the shortcut” and “it’s all just about your mindset” flung about. It’s a disservice to Ann and every other person who has taken this step to undercut their choice as a “quick fix”. It is a permanent lifestyle change complete with its on risks and rewards. It is a brave choice. And it is no one but hers to make. So to Ann and everyone else out there who has wanted better, I say bravo! I tip my hat to you.