Courage is easiest to see in hindsight. It has a tail, like the wake of a ship. It is best seen looking back and gathering all the little hints to it along a pathway, even though some parts of the pathway are blood-stained, some little hints red-speckled.
We have courage the way we have insight and discernment. It is imbedded in us by a God whose life is love – coeur – the french for “heart.” Courage is simply love which has engaged the daily, the mundane, the regular and so won the day simply by showing up. It may seem like the stuff of medals and ceremony, of war memorials and certificates of merit. But it is not. No. Courage is just showing up with all we have even when what we have is bullet-ridden, weary, leaking, sagging. Courage is leading with one’s broken heart and its opposite is not fear, as one might think. The opposite of courage is retirement, safety in a bunker of a protected half-lived life. I do not mean the kind of retirement in which a job is ended and a pension is engaged by old people in a Floridian bungalow . I mean retirement in terms of withdrawing, retiring as a drawing-back or withholding of life-force, of staying afraid. Suicide is a good example but so too is too much TV or a beloved art form unexpressed or internet surfing or just about any addiction – especially the worst addiction of all – the addiction to our own thoughts.
Courage is getting back in the ring when you feel like that last punch is one from which you may not recover. Courage is getting up and getting back into that very thing which so deeply broke your heart – that failure, that dissolution of relationship, that deep disappointment, that failed marriage, that chilly silence between siblings or parents and children. Courage is like lighting the fire again with wet wood and one match – it starts small, just a few crackles and a tiny trail of smoke like ivy or the black hair on a baby’s forehead. But it grows and crackles more, and soon there is a blaze of life and love and heat again.
Courage is the willingness to ask yourself, about yourself, the best question that has ever been asked, stepping back and looking at oneself from a slight distance and saying to one’s self: “I wonder what he/she will do next?” And doing so with great expectation.