What Does BRAVE Look Like?

brave (adjective) ready to face and endure danger or pain, showing courage

I have been processing these thoughts for many months, turning them over and over again in my mind. Initially it was about my Peace Corps service and returning from South Africa and seeing things with a renewed heart and eyes but of course more has happened. I wasn’t ready to put my thoughts out as I continue to weigh my words and consider the message.

So much has happened since I have returned, but somehow it didn’t feel like the right time to share them. The calendar page has turned and I am finally able to publish my thoughts again.

It’s been more than a year since I returned from Africa, a continent that many think is full of wild animals and adventure, and several people commented how brave I was for going to the edge of the earth and possibly of civilization. Upon my return I reconnected with family and friends and learned how much can happen in two years: moving and job changes (all of my kids lived somewhere different and two had new jobs), a few new relationships and babies, serious illness and death, nothing quite prepares you for all of these, although they are inevitable. It made me realize how brave we all have to be to face whatever is next, although it seems easier to see bravery in others and discount such qualities of ourselves.

I think back a few months and thousands of miles away to the people I met in South Africa. They have many of the same struggles as we do but must also do more with less. They raise families, gossip and laugh with friends and hope for a good education and opportunities for their kids. In my village less than 10% have electricity at home and less than 1% have water in their yard, but they are committed to family and community, stringing together moments to go beyond existence, working their hardest and presenting themselves at their best. Msinga, the area where I stayed, has been having a drought for more than 10 years, and there is not always clean water at the community pipes, but the people keep going, carrying water by the bucket full to their homes. Children need to be raised, meals prepared and people taken care of. There are weddings and funerals, births and deaths. I now wish I had asked them what they thought brave meant or looked like.

I returned feeling more stoic, learning to accept what is, trying not to focus or complain about the weather, since rain is a blessing during a drought or how hot or cold it is, when no one has central heat or air conditioning or that my wifi was too slow because I got a taste of what it was like to not have any for weeks at a time. I learned to wash my clothes by hand and to not buy more groceries than I could carry home. Lessons they already knew and I had never considered. They live with one foot bringing their heritage and traditions of their ancestors and the other foot pulling them into the future, learning computers and crafting ways to charge their cell phones when there is not a single plug at home.

Pandemic BRAVE

In the last few months the world and life as we know it has changed. We have all been pushed outside our comfort zones. Keeping a brave face and our resolve to deal with an invisible enemy and it is unclear for how long that staying home is the best way for most of us to fight.

And what of the future? What are we hoping for? Can we even imagine what’s next? What are we learning?

We have all needed to be BRAVE for our kids, our parents, our co-workers, our community, for ourselves. We have suddenly had to unplug from some of our supports and comforts, hopefully we will remember. BRAVE decisions to be made. Jobs lost or uncertain, kids home all day every day, staying separated from those we love, adapting to work at home, connected through our glowing screens, some days with an insatiable need for information, sorting through the mixed messages and politicization of a disease, plenty of finger pointing, scrambling, hunting and gathering supplies in case it gets worse. 

And we are learning how to be Alone Together, where we are redefining education and classrooms, supply chains, the meaning of essential workers,and crisis leadership, with events and trips postponed and cancelled. But other challenges haven’t gone away: cancer, divorce, plumbing issues, flat tires.

Our faces and identities now meet each other with masks inside and out, keeping a safe distance as we cautiously relearn how to interact. Missing relaxing, hugs, seeing smiles, being close to people, going out to dinner, concerts or ball games.

Feeling helpless, awash in the pandemic, racial protests, and political division. Waking with a scratchy throat and wondering if that means I have the virus. Am I doing all I can? Am I getting more lost or more found?

We each face challenges everyday physically and mentally , but most are battled internally, seen and felt only by us. Many are invisible to all except those closest to us, and even then few may realize all that we are each battling.In public we keep a brave face, a mask of confidence. We associate BRAVE with soldiers, patients fighting the good fight. But most battles are small and don’t involve weapons or even victory but are carried out in our day to day lives as we take on the next obstacles.

We are all BRAVE, even though we may not have a medal on our chest, a place in history or a parade or ceremony in our honor. Keep fighting the good fight and keep taking leaps of courage.

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