A friend of mine said once that courage is doing really scary stuff really scared. It’s the only idea of courage I’ve ever been able to relate to.
It’s not so much about sticking around when the bad stuff hits. Shock usually takes care of that for me. While my emotional brain is still reeling, the hyper-rational me steps in and takes care of things. (From what I’ve been told, I’m the most rational person you’d ever break up with.)
No, where the scary stuff comes in is the next day. When my world has shifted or shattered and I have to figure out how to live in a new reality.
That’s when just showing up is courage.
Theater people taught me a lot about showing up. When I was in high school hanging out with college theater majors, it was the costuming department I spent the most time with.
Costumes were important because they revealed the character – to the audience, yes, but first and more importantly, to the actor. And the principle bled over into everyday life. What we wore was about more than self-expression; it was self-revelation.
Showing up with who you really are, even when it gets scary.
Courage is about the willingness to be vulnerable. I almost said “the strength,” and it may be strength, but it never feels like it at the time.
It feels like showing up with all your wounds, your hurt, your vulnerabilities on display. It feels like saying, “I’m here; I’m hurting but I’m not going to hide.”
My seminary boyfriend used to complain that whenever he tried to break up with me (sometimes successfully), if he saw me the next day I would be looking particularly good just to torture him. Some of that was doubtless his penchant for regrets, and some of it was probably that I really did look particularly good.
But not for his sake. I was claiming me in the face of rejection. If he wasn’t going to value me, I certainly was.
There is a tradition that the ancient warriors of Scotland went into battle naked, their bodies painted blue with woad.
They didn’t put on armor that would protect them from assault, cover the softness of skin and muscle that bleeds.
And they didn’t camouflage themselves with colors that would help them blend into their surroundings and hide from their enemies.
No. They took one of the brightest and rarest of colors and they painted themselves with it, all their wounded and scared and vulnerable flesh. And they showed up, with all of who they were and nothing but blue woad for courage.
On my scariest days, the ones when I can either show up or lose something of myself I don’t want to live without, I show up.
I show up trembling, and yes, stubborn. I don’t put on armor – something that covers my softness with cold, hard bravado. And I don’t try to hide, blending in and unnoticeable.
I put on whatever feels most like me, with all my longing vulnerabilities and defiance and aching wounds and love.
And I show up, with nothing but blue woad for courage.