Out from Shaded Places
I wish courage could be taught.
I wish I had a box of puzzle pieces for my 17-month-old son that, when placed together just right, would show him an exact picture of bravery. Or a game, like with his numbers—repeating them every day, over and over, until one morning, as I’m changing him, he says, “One,” and there, he’s learned it. If I could just keep saying, “Be courageous,” until that magical moment when it sticks, that’d be brilliant.
I wish you didn’t first have to be afraid before you can learn it. Without fear, there’s no need for bravery. Without pain, there’s no reason for courage. I hate that, because it means he’s going to have to feel it. A lot of it. And only then will he know what it feels like to be brave—or not.
I know a lot about not being brave, which is probably why I want it for him so badly.
I’ve spent my life avoiding situations and people who cause me to be afraid or feel vulnerable. I’ve looked for the best places to hide, to be protected. To be safe. And, at the same time, I’ve missed out on so much of life.
Because hiding may get you safety, but not much else.
I don’t want that for him. Which means he has to see, feel, watch it happen before his eyes—to have it modeled and lived—for him to understand somewhere deep in his soul that his mama is brave and he can be too.
But, I’m not brave.
I was a pretty ballsy kid. By the time I was four, we’d lived on three different continents, so I was used to putting myself out there, blazing my own trail and meeting life head on. I’d walk up to everyone and anyone and make them see me and play with me. Scars all up and down my legs were evidence and perhaps my parents wished I was a little less brave. But, when I was about about fifteen, everything changed.
My hair started falling out.
Suddenly and inexplicably, my once bouncy, shiny brown locks began gathering at the shower drain and the dull white of my scalp splayed its patches wider and wider, continually greedy for more space.
And, I was so afraid.
The kind of afraid that strangles your chest and won’t let go, the kind that turns into deep shame, knowing that everyone will laugh and stare and think you’re as ugly as you feel inside.
So, I hid. Stayed in the shade, out of the reach of the sun’s piercing gaze, spent hours in front of the mirror to find ways to cover the growing emptiness. My arm would hurt from endless rearranging of my scarf but I would not leave my place until the mirror told me I was the least bald of them all.
If no one ever found out, maybe I’d be okay. If no one knew, I wouldn’t have to face their eyes
and the lurking disgust. If it was only my secret to keep, I’d be safe.
Problem is, hiding takes practice and work and strategy and that’s what my life became—calculated and careful. I always knew where everyone was around me, stayed just out of reach in case someone might try a joke and tug at my scarf. When I was in conversation, I’d make sure there was a wall to my back so no one could come up from behind and catch me unaware.
And, I could hear—hear everything, just in case someone discovered my secret, just in case they were whispering. About me and my scarf. Just in case. It was exhausting. But, as the years went by, I found newer and more elaborate ways to hide and, though I managed to keep my secret, I lost myself—amongst the wearied, woven sanctuaries I’d built.
That is the last thing I want for my baby boy.
I don’t want him to know the reality of never truly letting yourself be known and that when you hide one part of who you are, you end up hiding too many others. And, you stop living.
I wish I could teach him to be brave. But, I can’t. I have to show him.
Which means, I suppose, it’s time. Time for him to see his mama try—and fail a lot—but try to look fear in the eye and instead of closing her own, keep them open to see and believe the truth that being brave doesn’t mean being perfect. It doesn’t even really mean being strong. Sometimes, at our weakest, we are our most beautiful.
I think being brave means being you—being seen, really seen—and feeling all the fear and vulnerability that comes with it. But, all the fierce love that finds its way in too—for yourself and others.
So, being brave, my little boy, I don’t know much about.
But, I’m willing to learn—let’s do it together.