As a little boy I was afraid of the dark. I’m not even sure what it was about the dark that terrified me as much as it did. Finding myself in darkness, a wave of dread would wash over me. I drowned in that great unknown which floods any heart engulfed by its greatest fear. Paddling furiously, with nothing but dread and panic to swim toward, I would try desperately not to choke on the violent waves of darkness crashing against me.
I often found myself envying those friends of mine that seemed unaffected by darkness. Some of them were even bold enough to sleep in their dark rooms without a night light. Those boys were legends. I thought I was a coward and they were the bravest souls I had ever met, because I confused their lack of fear with bravery. Life, however, has funny ways of teaching us lessons about what it means to be brave.
Those of us who were lucky enough to survive the voyage through the arduous seas of adolescence, too often found ourselves in dark and stormy waters that shook our soulful ships down to their very core. Yet no matter how violent the gale, we sailed on with our tattered banners until they were glowing in the light of the dawn and the storm had finally passed. We came to realize we are so much more than masts of bone and sails of skin. We are durable. We are bendy. We possess a power somewhere deep in our hulls that cannot be measured by stress tests or feats of strength.
I believe it is the greatest storms which teach us the most important lessons. The greatest struggles sire the smoothest sailors. It will be such a storm which will teach us the true meaning of bravery. Life has its ways of forcing us to face our deepest fears. It has its way of sitting us in that dark room.
Though I recall my great storm well, I do not remember exactly when my ship changed its course. I do not remember the sun dipping beyond the horizon. I can only remember the darkness of the night. Life had put me on a ship that was empty with no wind in its sails. My breath would have been visible in the icy night sky, had there been enough light to see it. I was stranded in the deepest darkest waters of the mind and, like those heroic friends from childhood, had no light in the night to guide me.
I think, in some form or another, we all experience this moment in our lives. A desperate moment in time, void of hope and happiness, that threatens to completely shatter our resolve. We find ourselves lost and afraid to move. With our ship sinking, we feel it is our duty to go down with it. It could be something as little as cramming the night before an exam, or as monumental as hearing the cancer has returned. Regardless of the depth of the dark waters we’re thrown into, staying the course – whatever that may be – becomes the portrait of insanity and we begin to paint the thought of surrender with the most beautiful and exotic of oils. Nothing seems as simple as lying on the deck and closing our eyes, waiting to welcome the black waves as they devour captain and craft.
It is in these darkest of moments that we, as humans, possess the inner strength to find a way. We pick up an oar and we paddle. We crawl across the blackness centimetre by centimetre, with every stroke bringing us deeper into that haunting abyss. Surrounded by fear, with no light to guide us, we find the flicker of a flame within ourselves. We trust in that feeble fire because it comes from a place that no darkness can breach. It comes from a place we don’t understand, but that we have an unwavering faith in.
If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened.” General George S. Patton, Drive to Victory – General Patton’s Third United States Army.
Those who walk into darkness without a fear of the dark are fighting a battle they have already won. They may be bold and courageous, but they are not brave. The brave are not without fear. On the contrary, it is only when we are overwhelmed with fear that it is possible to truly demonstrate bravery.
The brave, when sinking into the terror of the deep, find a way to paddle through. The brave, when consumed and surrounded by darkness, find a light within themselves. It is those who trudge undeterred through the darkest parts of themselves that are the true champions of bravery.
The fact that you’re reading this is enough to tell me you’ve made it through your share of storms. Maybe you’ve even survived your great hurricane, your grand and defining moment. Our life, however, is a single voyage comprised of many storms and there will always be another on the horizon. It’s part of being human. Before you die, you will face many more storms in all aspects of your life. Some of them will terrify you. Always remember that fear doesn’t define you; we cannot choose the things which strike terror into our hearts.
But we can choose to paddle on. We can choose to be brave, because bravery is within each and every single one of us. You just have to know it’s inside of you. I promise you that it is. You are not a coward. You are unwavering and unbreakable. You are strong. You are brave.
Be good to each other,
Photo of the boy in a costume is courtesy of funderlandpark.com