A few weeks ago I’d emailed a friend about my summer plans and the Camino. She wrote back, saying how great the trip sounded, and that she wished she had my courage.
My first thought when I read those words was, “No, this isn’t a brave thing I’m doing. I don’t have courage. In fact, I’m really scared.”
This idea of bravery and courage has been rattling around in my head for several weeks now. Am I brave to be doing this? Have I ever been brave to do any of the things that I’ve done in my life?
My immediate reaction is always to think, “No.” I just do the things that I do, and often, those things are accompanied with fear. Any big trip that I’ve taken has, initially, been full of nerves and anxiety. Change stresses me out. One of my nagging worries is that I’m living a small life and fear is holding me back.
I think about this quote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” (Nelson Mandela)
So often in my life I think I’ve assumed that because I have felt fear, I was not acting with courage or bravery. My fear usually feels so strong that it doesn’t leave room for much else. How can I possibly be brave if I feel so afraid?
When I went to France for my junior year of college, I was terrified. I was fine in the days leading up to the trip, and okay as I walked onto the plane. But as soon as we began the descent into Toulouse, my nerves hit. And I realized that I had no idea what I had just walked into. I was going to live with a host family- a bunch of French strangers- for 9 months? I wouldn’t go home for 9 months? I’d have to speak French for 9 months?
I struggled in the beginning, missing home and feeling uncomfortable and uncertain. What I was doing did not feel at all brave. It felt just the opposite: like I was somehow failing the experience because I was scared and timid.
Sometime in my first few weeks abroad, I received a letter from my uncle. I was the first ‘kid’ in the family to go abroad, and he told me how proud of me he was. How I had just hopped onto a plane without a clue, and flown to another country, not knowing what would meet me on the other end. That it was a brave thing to do.
He was right. I had hopped onto a plane without a clue. But he was also right in that it was brave. It still didn’t feel brave, but when I read his words, I was able to look at my experience differently. It was okay that I was scared and uncertain. The bravery was taking the steps: making the decision to study abroad, and walking onto that plane and into the unknown.
This has been a slow kind of acceptance for me, that making a decision and taking a first step- any kind of step- is bravery and courage. And that it is okay to have fear, that fear does not preclude bravery.
I am filled with fear for this Camino. Excitement, too, but also fear. So when someone tells me that I am brave to do this, I automatically think that I am not, that a brave person wouldn’t feel this kind of fear.
And that is not true. There is courage in this, in walking across a country in search of adventure and connection and discovery.
This is bravery.