When Asked to Write about Courage

I close my eyes and look for courage, look for the incidents, look for the word. And letter by letter it comes at me through space, first the ‘C’ growing large and then shrinking to make way for the ‘O’ and then right down the line.

But no incidents come, no memories, no grand gestures of overcoming fear. And I realize that as a child I just did. My relationship with fear and banishing it with courage didn’t exist. Every act of every day was courageous. I never considered being otherwise. Either that or I have a convenient memory.

And now. Me and courage. We do well together. I take risks. I decide that if something has a hold on me I must take it on, and with that acknowledgment an act of courage leaps forward demanding attention, saying, “Remember me? Remember me?” The act wants to be recounted, wants the spotlight, wants me to tell you of the time my college roommate comes to me and says, “There’s a guy coming to our dorm to talk about skydiving. I’m gonna go listen to him. Come with me.”

I think she’s crazy, but I walk downstairs with her. We sit through a presentation of photos and description, how the training will last eight hours and then we’ll go up in a plane, line up, and one by one leap from 3000 feet. No need to pull the ripcord – we’ll be on static lines that do the work. Unless they don’t. Then you’re up.

When his words wind down, I turn to my roommate and say, “Okay. I’m in.” And she responds, “Are you crazy? No way.”

But I go, and it is a story. I’ve never faced fear like I did when I dangled my legs out that open airplane door, felt the rush of speed, and saw the tiny doll-sized life on the ground. I convince myself to jump by saying, “I don’t think this is my time to die,” and I cap it with, “I was drawn to this for a reason.” These sentiments partnered with the jump instructor’s palm on the small of my back giving me a less than gentle nudge send me through the door to hit the wind, to try to scream out 6-5-4-3-2-1 as instructed, hoping to never hit ‘1,’ for if I do it’s time to go into emergency action through a set of learned steps ending with “Pull ripcord on emergency chute.” But I never even get to ‘5.’ The speed of descent contorts my mouth to unmovable motion locking my lips apart and, I’m convinced, pressed somewhere around my ears. Stunned by my inability to vocalize, I lose count and pray that my distraction won’t render me a cartoon pancake upon the ground.

Luckily, the chute opens with a reassuring assault that sends me skyward in defiance of gravity. And then I float through the most beautiful two minutes of my life.

I come in hard on the landing, on an angle, they say, and take all the impact in my left ankle. I can barely stand to celebrate my act, the pain great, but I don’t care. This was all a gift.

But I must say that that was an easy act of courage, and I almost didn’t speak of it when considering the topic. Doing is not my nemesis. I can do. But there is a foe, the kind of courage I can speak of if I dare, and that is the courage to step forward and be willing to be seen beyond the casing of my being. What demands my courage is the willingness to strip off the fa├žade and let you know the weakness that lurks within. The power does well for itself, but the weakness has never had a turn on stage, and letting it out would be an act of courage far beyond leaping from an airplane.


flutter said...

defy that gravity.

Girlplustwo said...

go on, jump.

we'll be here with arms wide open.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Dee. Both types of courage take a lot of faith and I know you have both.

BOB13 said...

It's in those courageous moments of vulnerability and confessing our weakness that others gain strength in recognizing themselves. Some of my favorite writing occurs when I see my own shortcomings in the courageous confessions of the author. Your writing is ripe with this stuff.

Peter Clothier said...

Beautifully written. I was right there with you, heart in mouth. Happy you didn't pancake, else I'd never have gotten to read this story. Cheers, Peter

Delton said...

While I often find myself lacking the courage one requires to jump out of an airplane, it is the courage of baring one's soul that I find most interesting. We all have weaknesses that we attempt to hide, but by sharing those we can grow together and find the courage to overcome our issues.

QT said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph.

However, I am so scared of heights I could barely read through the skydiving description - it was that real. But I am good at doing, too.

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