Imagine, if you will, a battlefield strewn with the blood and bodies of fallen men with two opposing armies determined to destroy each other. New recruits are pouring in with every breath to fill the ranks on each side as the casualties continue to pile up. One army is small and disorganized, filled with the inexperienced warriors who have no idea what battle is really like. The other army is fierce and disciplined, able to out maneuver, out fight, and out last their enemy. A hill separates the two warring parties, and it is merely a matter of time before their battle begins again. Warriors on both sides prepare for it in their own special way.
In the smaller army are two men – one who is terrified and sick with fear; the other who is strong and boastful, certain that suffering will come to the enemy by his hand. The order is given to their ranks to charge up over the hill to engage their enemy with the hope that the element of surprise will be their best defense. Everyone knows the casualties will be heavy but it is an action that must be taken if there is any hope of winning the battle, much less the war. The terrified soldier grabs his weapon, says a prayer and charges over the hill, running into the jaws of uncertainty and potential destruction in spite of his fears. The other soldier who had been so sure of himself now finds his boasting challenged with the reality of the battle before him. He too charges over the hill, a little less sure of his fate.
Who is the bravest of the two men? Is it the soldier who was reluctant and scared but who ran over the hill because he knew he must if his army had any hope of victory? Or is it the soldier who talked a good talk but when faced with action was hesitant to go and yet went anyway? In my mind the answer is both. Both men showed a measure of courage, even if they got there from different paths. We often hear of great warriors throughout the ages who never feared death or the battle, and charged in where angels feared to tread. We have come to equate heroism, bravery, and courage by such classical models. The fact is, courage that is untested is merely bravado. Courage does not exist because of an absence of fear. It thrives within the realm of fear and is calculated by what a person does in the face of their fears.
It is easy to be brave and courageous when everything is going well. It is very hard to be courageous when everything gets suddenly very difficult. Life is full of challenges and hardships. One rarely has to look far to see them within their own life or within the lives of people they love. It matters little what the hardship is. You can see it in the life of
- a single parent
- a person with physical or mental disabilities
- a soldier returning from a war zone trying to readjust to civilian life
- a teacher with too many students and not enough resources who pays for school supplies for their students out of their own pocket
- a family that is facing foreclosure
- a person who has lost someone they loved
The list is endless. These hardships of ours come in so many forms, and each example we face in our lives demands that we make a choice as to our response. Do we run and hide in the face of our adversity, or do we stand firm and do our best to overcome it or at least wear it out a bit? That is where courage is born or is lost, in the answer to that one simple question.
I should know….I have taken both roads at various times in my life. I won’t bore you with specifics because the events matter less than the decisions I made at the time and the lessons I learned along the way. I wish I could say I always took the brave road, looked my fears straight in the eyes, and waggled my fist at them. But I would be lying if I did. There have been many times when the circumstances were too much for me. That is not to say later I didn’t face the same challenge and find my victory over it, but usually the triumph came after some pretty inglorious moments on my part.
I fell down and scraped my knees a lot over the years. More than I care to admit. I chastised myself each time, making the wounds inflicted in my defeat even worse and harder to heal. I lived in fear, self-doubt, and uncertainty for a long time. It finally led to discouragement…..the death blow in any great battle. As I got older (and hopefully bit wiser), something amazing happened. I gave myself a break and a teenie, tiny bit of credit.
I wasn’t perfect, but I realized I had some pretty amazing qualities and strengths that could be used to lift me out of the rut I was in and get me back on track to follow my dreams. I was smart. I kicked butt in school, and when I went back to college in my adult years, I did really well. College gave me a number of the tools I needed to face a variety of challenges that would come way later on. I also overcame my fear of failure by finding strength in something I was good at. I was likable and outgoing in school, so I pulled upon those strengths to give me the confidence to reach out to people I didn’t know. This ability was a boon for a multitude of reasons, including where my writing was concerned. After all, promotion is all about getting out there and meeting people. You can’t do that effectively if you are crippled with fear. I was very disciplined where work was concerned, so I used that strength to set up a writing schedule to ensure I would make consistent progress on my stories – both while going back to school and while working a full time job. I was creative, which helped give me a multitude of ideas to pull from when my writing voice went silent for whatever current project I was working on. I didn’t find myself with writer’s block because I gave myself the latitude to work on more than one thing at a time.
You get the idea. I went from being discouraged and feeling alone, my first book was published in June of this year and I am very close to completing the second book in the series.
I know there will be many more battles in my life; some of them I won’t win, but I also won’t give up if and when I do. I have come too far to turn back now. Like the one soldier, I may tremble at the idea of running over that hill and making myself vulnerable to a thousand different enemies, but I can take the leap of faith knowing it is the right direction for me to go in. I can be confident in my certainty because I found courage in my discouragement and will never look back again, unless it means I can help a fellow soldier make it over the hill too.
H.L. Stephens is the author of the Chronicles of Mister Marmee ~ The Case of Jack the Nipper. Her book is available at most fine eBook retailers.
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