Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name. Robert Louis Stevenson
My favorite poem by Jack Gilbert is called “The Abnormal Is Not Courage”. In it, Gilbert writes first about what courage is not — “not the marvelous act”, “not Macbeth with the fine speeches”, “not the exception”. Instead, he says, courage is “the beauty that is of many days. Steady and clear.”
I think of this poem all the time now. About how my definition of courage has changed. About how often I’ve seen everyday courage exhibited over and over by people who are broken and grieving.
For me, courage is ..
- getting out of bed after your only child dies.
- going to the grocery store, hours or days after your beloved dies, knowing that you are sure to run into someone you know, and going anyway.
- answering the phone when the hospital pharmacy calls and explaining why you don’t need any more medical supplies.
- going back to work.
- opening your home to close friends the weekend of their son’s funeral, even though the mere fact of their being there will trigger the most painful memories of your only son’s death three years earlier.
- dropping everything to spend time with a dear friend after she calls sobbing and begging for reassurance that she can survive the death of her son, knowing that the conversation will force you to relive the details and immediate aftermath of your daughter’s death.
- showing up to volunteer in your son’s elementary school classroom, even though two weeks earlier, you had two children attending that school.
- going to a wedding, graduation, baby shower or any other life event that your child didn’t live long enough to experience.
- attending a social gathering despite knowing there will be people there who don’t know that your beloved has been dead for six months.
- reaching out to someone else whose child, spouse, parent, sibling has died and putting aside your own grief to comfort them.
- sharing the story of how your beloved died, knowing that even though most people will be heartbroken for you, others will be judging you and him/her.
- opening your heart to new friendships even though you’d rather stay home curled up in a ball.
- “staying in the arena” by creating a nonprofit, a blood drive, an endowment, a fundraiser to try to help others who are struggling with the same disease, addiction, mental illness that your child died from.
- answering questions like “Are you married?”, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” and “How many children do you have?”