This story is about bravery. I have no scientific research to present, no long-term study to share. Just my observations. One of my many ponderings of middle age.
I define bravery simply as the action of facing fear head-on. You may stand firm and not retreat, or you may take an action on yours or someone else's behalf. Whatever you do, you do not acquiesce to your fear. It can be a big act or a small act. It can be in the eyes of the beholder or only in your heart. In any case, it takes courage to be brave.
As a child, we don't know what to fear. We fear everything and we fear nothing. We lack life experience and begin our process of self discovery. See stranger, start screaming. Fear anyone that doesn't look and smell like mom. Pull dog's tail, dog nips. Fear dog bite. Eat peas. Gag. Fear gagging on peas.
As we go from our 20's up to about 40, I believe we are still learning about what to fear in the world. Our definition of bravery becomes more refined. We become more responsible, and with that comes consequences. We pay more attention to the world around us. Some of us go to war. Some of us go to jail. Brave might mean running into the heat of a battle. It might mean asking for a raise from your boss. It might mean going to therapy and facing your demons. It no longer means jumping off a skateboard. The courage we muster is to be brave in the face of the present consequences of our lives.
I am finding with middle age, however, my bravery and courage are changing. Instead of feeling immortal as I did as a young person, I am becoming keenly aware of my mortality. Instead of tempting fate, I am pushing fate away. I am becoming more afraid of what MIGHT happen. For example, I used to run down stairs. I never gave them a second thought. Now, I go down them carefully. I fear I might fall. My legs aren't as sure as they used to be. My eyes aren't as good. Trifocals distort the world somehow. I don't drive at night unless I absolutely have to. I can't see as well, and I do not want to hit an innocent animal crossing the road. This is a very different way of being from when I was younger.
Others are putting the painful feelings of grief and impending loss aside in order to care for an aging parent. What a precious gift to a loved one, to be with them and care for them during their last days here on Earth. The courage it takes to helplessly watch one you love decline in health is tremendous, and only a brave Soul can walk that path.
I watch as some battle cancer. Some win, some lose. But they are brave, my friends. They face their fears of death gracefully. They take care of their bodies and their loved ones. I have seen one dying relative helping family members cope with their grief at losing this wonderful woman who had been part of our lives always. This, as she lay dying in her bed. She was at peace with what was to come. That is brave.
My elders have fear of financial security and poor health, of being able to afford their medicines and food. Yet, they finish every sentence with "We'll get by somehow." They have faith and hope in their God. That is where their courage comes from, that is how they are brave to face every new day.
For myself, I have found a new courage I didn't know I had. The courage to be open to possibilities, to have faith that I will be OK no matter what happens, to stand in love without assurance or promise. I have stood up to the fear and desperation of an unknown future by being brave enough to live in the moment. For that is all I or any of us have for sure.
I don't know how bravery will show itself in my life as I continue to age but I hope it is in ways that really are meaningful, ways that deepen and enrich my life and the lives of others around me. I aspire to have the courage and bravery I have witnessed in the beautiful women in my life.
I hope I learn to fly.