On Courage

I’m a counselor by profession. At least once every time I see my people I tell them how brave they are for showing up and sharing and doing really hard work. I tell them that it takes a whole lot of courage to do what they are doing. I tell them that they are doing work that a ton of people on this earth will never ever do. I tell them that it takes a lot of guts to talk about hard things; it takes a lot of guts to do the work of thinking back and remembering and talking about things that hurt. I tell them that when a lot of people would say that talking about our feelings is lame and unnecessary and sometimes stupid, I think it’s one of the bravest things anyone can do. It takes courage to be real and open and honest, and then to sit in the midst of all that and do work.

Why do we not do the things we tell other people? Someone please help me understand this.

A few weeks ago I was telling some friends how fearful I am to go back to Uganda. How afraid I am to willingly get on a plane and fly myself back to the place where all of the really hard things went down. How I’m so scared that I will get there and be paralyzed, paralyzed with sadness and fear and grief and anxiety. How genuinely terrified I am to do this again.

One of them looked at me and said, “Courtney, do you remember how hard it was for you to come home? Going back is going to be really hard, but to me you’ve already done the hardest thing.” Another one said something to the tune of, “Yeah I wish we had video footage of you when you first came home so you could see yourself. You were in a really dark place.” And then we had a good laugh because, YES.

I don’t ever think about hard it was to come home from Uganda. How physically sick I got when I received that phone call. How it seemed impossible to put on a smiling face and go play with a little boy for the very last time. How so very hard those plane rides home were. How sad it was to send that email telling everyone what happened. How I sobbed so audibly it almost hurts to think about now. How there were days I thought leaving my house might physically kill me. How showering and changing clothes was a really big deal for weeks. How terrible and hard it was to face people for the first time. How hard it was to realize that life keeps moving forward, it doesn’t stop just because sad things happen. How horrible going back to work was. How hard I cried driving away on the last day of school because I didn’t have to go back to a place that constantly (but not on purpose) reminded me of how I wasn’t supposed to be there. How hard it was to pack up a room meant for a kid who would never see it. How sad and angry and hurt I was. How genuinely hard it was to do the work of grieving, and then how genuinely hard it was to do the work of healing and moving forward.

I get why we do it. I think part of it is really protective. We don’t look back because it hurts and it’s hard and it isn’t fun. We don’t think back because we’re surviving and then when we aren’t surviving we’re figuring out a new normal. Moving forward makes it hard to remember sometimes. I think when hard things happen it’s easy to forget where we started. When we’re living in the aftermath of the hard we aren’t thinking about where we came from. But I’m learning that if we never look back it’s impossible to see how far we’ve come. Just like I tell my people, it takes a lot of courage to remember. It’s really brave to do the work of looking back.

I’m really into the definition of courage these days, strength in the face of pain or grief. I think courage is a lot of things. Courage is grieving; grieving the kid you lost, the relationship you were hurt in, or the dream that died. Courage is surviving; getting up and making yourself eat and shower and get dressed. Courage is moving forward; finding new happiness in the midst of pain. Courage is looking back and remembering; remembering how hard it was and how okay you are now. Courage is doing really hard things; packing up a room, going back to the place you were hurt, or talking about what happened. Courage: strength in the face of pain or grief. Yes, a thousand times yes.

I recently bought myself a necklace with the word courage on it. I wear it almost daily simply as a reminder. It’s not so much a reminder to have courage, but a reminder that I already do have it. I really wanted it to say something like, “Girl you can do hard sh*t” but apparently that’s too long to get engraved on a necklace, and Dustin said something about that being inappropriate. To that I say whatever, sometimes courage is inappropriate.

I think I’m learning that sometimes we just need a reminder. We just need someone to ask us, “Do you remember how hard it was for you to come home?” We need someone to tell us that you can do hard things. You’ve already done them.

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