It's not having been in the dark house, but having left it that counts.

-- Theodore Roosevelt

I have been thinking a lot about courage lately. In part it is because of the work of Sandra Ford Walston, and her book, Courage: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman. I thought about the courage of everyday people: the courage that life demands of us.

Too often we think of courage as the strength required for dramatic acts of heroism: pulling a victim out of a flaming wreck, or jumping into the ocean to rescue someone who is drowning. The more life threatening the act, the more we regard it as courageous.

There is another kind of courage which, to my mind, is just as heroic. It is when ordinary people are terrified about something they must, or want to undertake, and they somehow summon up the inner courage to do it. They may agonize over what lies before them, they may be immobilized by fear for weeks, months or years; they may lose sleep, suffer anxiety, or shake like a leaf. Yet one day, they take the plunge, and do the frightening thing.

Perhaps it is the abused woman who knows she must get herself and her children out of that environment. Perhaps the abuser has threatened to harm her or her children if she tries to leave. Often, she has no financial resources, and no where to turn. She feels all alone. Then one day, for the sake of her children, she makes a run for it. She may live in terror for weeks or years that he will find her. Yet, somehow, she lives with that terror, and carries on. This is tremendously courageous.

It could be the individual who is severely depressed, discouraged, and feeling hopeless about life and the future. This person may suffer every day, scarcely finding the strength to face each day. Increasingly, the option of ending it all becomes attractive. An end to the pain, relief from the struggle, and a final peace call seductively. It would be easier for the individual to stop living. Through the fog of depression, the thought of the effect this would have on others filters through. They think of the grief this would cause for parents, children, siblings and friends. They choose to continue on with a difficult life, carrying their pain, rather than passing it on to others. This is courage.

What about the young woman who becomes pregnant, and knows she cannot adequately provide for a baby. She carries the baby to term, feeling its movements, goes through labour, sees its sweet face and lovingly holds it, and then gives the child up. She gives an immeasurable gift to a childless couple, and carries in her heart for the rest of her life the memory of that child. Throughout her life she will wonder. She will wonder what the child looks like. She will wonder how life unfolded for her child in its adoptive family. Perhaps they will connect at some point, but very possibly she will go to her grave still wondering. This is courage.

There are countless examples of ordinary individuals facing their demons, or dealing with extremely difficult aspects of life. The inevitable conclusion is that courage is a trait that exists in all humans. It resides right there inside of us, waiting to be tapped. We may be scared, intimidated, unsure, doubtful, worried or anxious, but that does not mean we do not have courage. If we do not, or cannot act, it only means we have yet to decide to draw upon the courage that lies within.

We do have courage. The irony is that we often do not know we have it until after the fact. We decide to act in spite of our fears, and as we take that step, courage shows up.Magically, mysteriously, amazingly, it is the leap of
faith that allows our courage to manifest.

Author's Bio: 

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and Chartered Psychologist in private practice. For more articles, books an CDs, visit her website www.gwen.ca, or contact her at gwendall@shaw.ca.