courage is a curious thing

Sometimes, we throw around phrases without really knowing what we are asking of ourselves or of others. Take courage. I have had a number of friends use that word courage with me in recent conversations.

It takes courage to live in community.

It took a lot of courage for those parents to withdraw life support.

That patient was so courageous in his years of battling his disease.

Courage is a curious thing. It is not quite like strength. It is more pliable, more dynamic. Strength takes on a more solid form regardless of its context. Courage, however, can take on new skin as its circumstances change. For many of our patients and their families, they take courage for weeks, months and years as they fight for the patient’s life. They take courage to undergo surgeries, to tolerate the debilitating side effects of strong medications, to endure agonizing hours of rehabilitation. But for many of these same patients, there sadly comes a point when they are challenged with what can feel like a complete undoing of courage itself. But in reality, it is simply a transformation. Going from the courage to live, to the even greater courage to die. Some families in our unit struggle deeply with this, and become stuck. Part of the reason, I believe, is because there is a moral aspect attached to courage, particularly in the context of a pediatric intensive care unit. (Or at the very least, there is a social aspect, because typically in situations where courage is required, other people are affected.) Purported courage without wisdom can easily slip into recklessness. Courage with wisdom does not come easily.

In another context, my artist friend Chia has a tagline on his business card, “Creativity takes courage.” I never fully understood this until I started becoming more aware of my fears. In my creative life, I began to notice that moment of hesitation, that quiver in my stomach whenever I finished a piece of writing, finished processing a set of photographs, or sat on the verge of playing an improvised melody. In the lingering seconds before opening these up to the world, I would feel those surprising yet familiar trembles in my gut. I began to realize there is a certain vulnerability that you open yourself up to when you share expressions of yourself to others. You begin a certain kind of dialogue with others when you begin to share your creative self, and in that dialogue, the door to criticism opens, whether you ever actually hear that criticism or not. But so too opens the door to exhilaration, encouragement, self-discovery, and growth.

It takes courage to live in community. This is not to say that we all need to become socialites, as Adam McHugh articulated so wonderfully in his book, which is gospel to introverts like myself. But introverted or extroverted, living in community requires creativity because we must learn how to define, accept and express our unique selves in the context of relationship. And creativity takes courage.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” True courage can feel, at times, terrifyingly elusive. But when it is found, its beauty and value are beyond measure.

3 thoughts on “courage is a curious thing

  1. “Creativity takes courage.”

    Wonderful post!

    Initial creation (improvisation, for example, at the piano in front of others) takes courage, for sure, most especially at first or for a special audience. Even more courage is demanded for the revision process. It takes a lot of courage to re-work a musical composition, throwing away notes, whole phrases even a section to replace with something better. What courage Beethoven exhibited! If one looks at his sketchbooks one sees a very aggressive, courageous approach towards improvement and, dare it be said, perfection. The same applies for reworing a poem, short story or essay. It takes a lot of courage to drop clever lines, good ideas, humorous observations in order to achieve the best final product possible. It takes courage to keep going towards that finish line and takes courage to stop once one has reached it. It sometimes takes courage to even abandon a piece to turn one’s energy to something with better potential. In this way, we have something in the creative process that has a similarity to the pairing of the courage to live and the courage to meet with death and take the next step.

  2. Hi! Creativity Takes Courage is actually what Henri Matisse said, not me. I just use it cuz I liked it a lot and well, we all rip each other off! Thanks for the share. I need to be more courageous.

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