> How to be brave

From Everything Changes, the Awl’s newsletter. Subscribe here.

Image: Simply CVR

I asked readers of Everything Changes about a time they’d been brave; a time they’d failed to be brave, and regretted it; or a time they saw someone else be courageous. Here’s what they said.

Last week, when I asked my 5 year-old son how his day at school was, he said that the boys were mean to him and teasing him when there wasn’t any room at snack time to sit at their table and he’d have to sit the girls’ table. So I asked him what he did and he said, “Duh, I just went and had fun with the girls.” (Imagine it with an eyeroll and the Rs as Ws: cute as hell.) — ATGC

I was raised in a pretty abusive household. When I was 14, I found a boarding school three thousand miles away, applied in secret, got a full scholarship, and left home. I haven’t lived at home since and have made it ten years later fully supporting myself in a city I love, a job I love, friends/community that I love. I sometimes think about that now, packing up everything and moving across the country without any support and building a new life for myself through a lot of luck and other people’s help, and know I probably couldn’t do it again. I left the worse place for paradise, both handed-out and self-made, and there’s nothing i’m prouder of. — THL

My brother had a spinal stroke when he was fourteen — completely out of nowhere. Our whole family was in Boston for that weekend so he was in Boston hospitals, but on Sunday night my mom had to drive my other brothers and I back home, two hours away, so we could go to school in the morning. About halfway through the drive, barely twenty-four hours after my brother got sick, my mom had to pull over a little because she couldn’t see the road, she was crying too hard. I’d never seen her cry before. After a few minutes she took some deep breaths, got back on the road, dropped us off, and turned right back around and went back to Boston, not knowing if her healthy, athletic, incredible young son would ever walk again, but ready to do whatever it would take to get him there. It was the first moment in those long months after my brother got sick that I saw him and my parents exercise the depths of their faith in that quiet, persistent, unshakable way that can only be called courage.

This summer I took my 4-year-old nephew to the swimming pool. He told me he wanted to go off the diving board, so I strapped on his life jacket and swam out to help catch him. From the look on his face, I thought “there is no way this kid is going to jump. No way.” But he did. I helped him swim to the edge of the pool and was certain that would be the end of it. He got out, and climbed back on the diving board. Again, he had a look of pure terror. Again, he jumped. Over and over, this kid looked fear in the face, and he jumped anyway. It was a good reminder to me that courage looks different on everyone. — MRN

There have been times when it took so much courage for me to get out of my pajamas, put on real clothes and face the next few minutes. Not face the day, just the next few minutes. Then, when those minutes had been dealt with, to take on the next few minutes. If you’ve been there, you understand. If you haven’t, you can’t possibly.

A dear friend who’s also a middle school teacher once claimed a fart that was actually emitted by one of the girls in her class.

I was walking with a friend at night on a main boulevard in Los Angeles. We saw some young teenagers standing in front of a homeless man, curled and pressed against a wall. They taunted him, mocked him, and prodded him, eager to get a rise out of him.

I wanted nothing to do with it. Wanted to embrace the simple cowardice of ignoring the man’s plight and just keep on walking.

My friend stopped. I had walked on somewhat, only to notice that he was no longer by my side.

He said nothing to the kids. Just stood in front of the man on the ground. His extended arm a shield against the punks.

They were mad at the disruption to their fun. Talked shit but did nothing in the end. They regrouped and left the scene, loping after other hunts in the night. My friend said some words to the man, then rejoined me.

He said nothing as we walked. No anger or admonition towards me. Just wore a Buddha-like non-smile of serene patience as I babbled on and on about my inaction. Excusing myself, whipping my cowardice, vowing to do better next time. Still, he said nothing. All the while, the same expression of non-expression. — JRS

I told the first woman I fell in love with that I loved her. Now we are together.

At 24, I had the courage to ask four of my mom’s best friends if I could edit (rewrite) the obituary they drafted for her, so I could better capture her spirit. Six years later, I’m still proud of it and of the 24 year-old who somewhat selfishly took on an incredibly difficult yet cathartic endeavor. (You can read it here.)

I was walking down the street. Ahead of me, an Asian man accidentally bumped into a white man. The Asian man said “sorry” and continued to walk on. The white man started screaming at him to “go back where you came from” and started calling him a bunch of racist epithets to ugly to write here. I am 5 foot tall, and weighed about a hundred pounds. All around me, businessmen on their lunch break streamed around us, ignoring what was going on in the middle of the sidewalk. I walked up to the white man who was screaming and asked him to tell me how long his ancestors had been in this country. I wanted to provide a shield between the white man and the other man. The Asian man escaped while I was talking to the racist. No one stopped to help me. Eventually, we both walked away. — LB

She would be the first in her family to get a college degree, her teachers told her it wouldn’t be easy and her friends think she’s a workaholic. I see her studying in the library and when I pack my things to leave she’s still there. Sometimes it’s hard and she sleeps off on the desk, sometimes she doesn’t understand anything, she’s not even sure if she knows what she’s doing but she’s still choosing to work hard. I think she’s brave. (My friend and I are both medical students.) — CM

My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer in November, and died the following April. Every single day, I tended to him as best I could.

I was not being brave. I was faking it. When no one could see, I’d cry, or complain, or envy those people who would not be left alone. — MLT

Anytime I write something that I am terrified to publish but do it anyway.

I met someone I cared about. I lost that person to another person. I was (still am!) scared of being vulnerable, as it’s never worked out in my favor, and never got the chance to tell him how truly happy he made me, how improbably good our time together was. I wrote him a long email, saying all the things. I don’t think I’ve done anything braver in my life. It was very hard for me to send. I never got a full reply from him. It has been many months. I still think of it often these days. — C

Finally quit a shit job that took advantage of me after 5 years!!!! — BK

The morning after the last election, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I really struggled. My wife was in bad shape too. I told my boss I was staying home, but he asked me to come in. He said I was a leader in the office — that people looked up to me — and that I should come in. For the first hour or two, I was miserable. Then I listened to a colleague who had the misfortune of explaining to everyone in the organization (globally via VTC) explain the ramifications on our policies. She broke down openly. At that point I realized that I needed to be brave not for me, but for my colleagues (and for my wife). Like me, they were looking for comfort. In that moment I was reminded of the bravery that real leadership demands, and spent the rest of the day trying to cheer people up. Cracking into my desk bourbon. Taking half the office out for a boozy lunch. Just being there for others when I desperately wanted someone to be there for me.

A few months ago, some coworkers made some antisemitic jokes in a team chat channel. I quit the channel and started looking for (and since found) a new job, but I didn’t say anything. I’ve thought about that time I didn’t say anything literally every day since. I wish I had been a better person.

Last night I got a beer with a woman who used to be my arch-nemesis. It was great.

Yesterday, I decided to wear lipstick to work for the first time. I’m an AMAB nonbinary person. I’m a teacher and I was so afraid of students saying something rude to me or people making comments while I was at work. Instead, it went well, and I ended up getting compliments. I remember reading Coraline when I was a child and there is a part where they describe bravery that has always stayed with me. They say that bravery isn’t the lack of fear, but your willingness to keep going even though your scared. I’m trans and I’m scared for what will happen in the coming years under Trump, but I’m brave and will keep going. — MJD

For eight years I have wanted to end a friendship with a person who I’m convinced only wants me as an audience, not as a friend who has her own life and goals and problems. I still haven’t done it. — DM

My daughter is one of the bravest people I know. She was a shy and smart little person, round and soft and attached to me physically until she was 3 or 4. Even then, her preference was always to be with me — in bed at night, in the bathroom, at home instead of at preschool. She was hesitant and uncertain on the outside, but always with a fiercely strong core. At the age of 15 she won a scholarship to study for a year in Germany. She spoke no German, had barely ever been away from home. She was wrenchingly homesick for the first four months, crying almost daily. And yet, she said, “If I still feel this way in February, I’ll start to think about coming home.” She turned 16 in Germany. She became fluent in German. She made friends and bonded with her host family. She did it, even though it was terrifying and difficult nearly the entire time. Now she’s 24, and she is still the one person in my life who I watch face the unfamiliar and the frightening with courage, on a regular basis. She’s traveled to India 8 times now, and learned several Indian languages. She has friends all over the world. She’s seen things I will never see, and she knows things I have yet to learn. She is truly my role model — she reminds me that there’s a path I can follow that may not be safe or familiar or comfortable, but that might lead me in beautiful, even sublime directions. If only I can be brave enough, as brave as she is. — MEW

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