14 Oct Answering the Call for Courage
This story is about courage. A new kind of courage—the courage to see the good no matter the circumstance; the courage to look within to find the light in the darkest of times; the courage to pave our own way. This story is for me as much as anybody else, because as I was writing it, my greatest adversity blew up in my face.
Yesterday my back seized up, worse than it has in a long time. Right now I feel like Bruce Wayne at the bottom of that pit in the Bane movie. I feel like Remi from Ratatouille in the gutters below Paris. I’m not going to lie, I don’t know what to do.
I’ve been dealing with a back and hip injury for almost five years, but it’s something I rarely talk or write about. It’s a weakness; it’s scary to be vulnerable about our weaknesses. But this is what’s challenging me, and I hope it can inspire somebody else going through something similar to brave the storm. This pain has caused me to dig deep and ask questions. We’re all battling with something; let’s make this easier on each other.
The hardest part is not knowing when or how it will get better, or if it will at all. It’s a pain that only I can ever know the depth of.
But over the years, I’ve had to find a way to believe things are going to get better. I have to believe that this challenge is making me into who I’m meant to be. People, doctors, practitioners tell me all the time that I’m too young for this. What am I supposed to say? I know they’re coming from a place of love and compassion. But I have to use that as motivation.
Then, I read something like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning or The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and it hits me. Human beings have made it through incomprehensible experiences with their souls intact. Anne Frank made it as far as she possibly could, and all she wanted to see was a day of sunlight.
I should be grateful to have a problem such as this. This is what I have to endure for now.
I rarely write publicly about my back because of fear. It sounds like a plea for help, and I’m afraid to sound ungrateful for what I do have. Maybe I do need help. I often tell myself it’s a blessing just to be able to walk. To see. To speak and think. It is.
I believe this happened for a reason while writing the following story on courage. Because I feel the pain. Tears have fallen down my face as I’ve typed the words. Because this isn’t just for me, but for whoever is hurting. I know there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and there is for you, too.
Maybe one day I’ll see that what I thought of as my greatest weakness was really my greatest strength all along.
THERE COMES A TIME in our lives where we’re urged to make a choice. Perhaps it won’t come abruptly, like the sound of thunder on a clear blue day. It may, and for some people, it will.
But more likely, the choice we have to make will infringe upon our lives like the first clouds of an impending storm. The clouds will slowly gather with the wind. Decisions will begin to gather like puddles of water from the first drops of rain.
The courage to run into a burning building to save someone, or to throw yourself in front of a bullet, or to stare down someone bigger and stronger than you, that is courage and that is what courage has been for thousands of years. But there is also courage in being yourself. In taking an unconventional path. To go out for something and be rejected for it.
I’m in my mid-twenties and have noticed the gathering clouds for a while now. For many, this is around the age where the voice becomes too much to disregard. We hear it — we all do. Deep within our heart and soul, we know what might make us truly happy.
We can’t be certain that we’ll succeed when we try something new, or that we’ll even like it. But when we’re alone, and the only voice we hear is the one of our heart which never quiets, we’ll be able to look in the mirror and say, I gave it a shot.
The never trying is what kills us.
To heed the call
It’s scary to heed the call.
We fear what the world might think if we embark upon the path untrodden. It goes against what family says, what friends say, what the world says. But what does your heart say?
Each of us is on this earth at this momentous time in history with the opportunity to create a new world.
Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore,
said the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale.
It’s safe on shore. It’s comfortable. There’s no reason to throw ourselves into the surf if we don’t have to. And that’s exactly why we must. Our courageous choice to live as an individual trying to find their way won’t separate us from everybody else.
It may momentarily — but ultimately, we will unite with those meant to be in our corner, just as we’ll be in theirs.
When we follow our inner voice to find what we’re on this earth to do, somebody else will be inspired to follow their own.
That’s what this world needs.
We should be happy, right?
If you’re like me, privileged to be born in the developed world, then you likely don’t have to worry about finding a scrap of food by the end of the day.
I don’t have to question whether or not I will sleep in a bed tonight. I’m not wondering if this is the last time I’ll see the sunlight, like the braves souls of history such as Anne Frank.
I’m privileged beyond reason to experience life in this way, for I could have just as easily been born a struggling soul without my basic needs met, for there are countless out there who undergo the daily struggle just to find food, shelter, and hope.
To live in a country that is free and prosperous isn’t the norm, it’s an exception. This chart from ourworldindata.org illustrates how in 1820, 1 out of 99 human beings lived in a democracy. It’s taken blood, sweat, and unimaginable courage to get to where we are today.
By 2015, 56 out of 100 live in a democracy.
We’re all dealing with something
Life is good, I remind myself constantly when I’m feeling down, or sorry for myself, or when I don’t want to deal with the daily trivial annoyances we all wade through.
Because while the world has undoubtedly progressed, it doesn’t mean we don’t still feel the weight of life bearing down on us. Everybody faces challenges, and they can seem insurmountable.
We may have our needs met, yet we still feel trapped, because what’s missing now in the developed world isn’t the freedom to eat or to have a place to sleep — it’s compassion; it’s love; it’s the encouragement to be you.
I don’t have a way to make it so everybody’s needs are met. I can’t offer a three-step method to find the reason you’re alive. I’m just trying to find my own meaning in it all.
But I believe we can start by showing empathy for one another. We’re all on the same team, going through something incomprehensible, yet worth the challenge of taking on together.
When I take a walk through nature, or wake up under comfortable sheets, I remind myself how unbelievably lucky I am. Still, I feel the weight of life knock me down. Sometimes I don’t know how to get back up.
I still feel pain, I still feel hurt, I still feel lost. I know I’m not alone. There are countless others with the same privilege as me, yet who still feel trapped, unable to unlock their potential, unable to see the gift of every day. We’ve been handed a blank slate of opportunity just by being born in this day and age.
Shouldn’t we be happy?
The perennial source of meaning
We have the Teslas, the doctors, the endless stream of videos to watch online. But what’s missing? Our lives seem bereft of something integral, be it a worthwhile challenge or a call to adventure. A belief in something that transcends reality, or a cause bigger than ourselves.
We are equipped to live the life of our dreams, if only we’d look within to seek what’s missing.
That’s where the answers have always been. Florence Nightingale didn’t have the internet to research nursing practices. She had the Crimean War. After years of silencing her inner voice, she finally adhered to the call and lept.
The world has changed, but who we are as human beings has not. Looking back at history shows us that even in the most inhumane and darkest of times, human beings still found the light when there was absolutely no reason to seek it.
It’s not that we should feel guilty for having it so well. Rather, looking back at history and what brave individuals overcame should show us that we, too, are capable of overcoming whatever challenges we face. Instead of feeling guilty, we can be grateful. Instead of feeling helpless, we must be inspired.
Twentieth-century Austrian psychologist and WWII concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, writes in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
Fundamentally, therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances as being a prisoner in a WWII concentration camp, decide what shall become of him - mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. It is this spiritual freedom which cannot be taken away that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
The limitless potential of the human spirit
As teenagers perhaps we can’t really grasp the importance of these books. I know I didn’t. But as a young man trying to find my own way in the world, re-reading these stories has inspired me profoundly.
Not only do they give us perspective and insight into one of the most important events in human history, WWII. They illuminate the depths and potential of the human spirit.
These courageous individuals endured experiences impossible to comprehend. Yet, they somehow retained their love for life. Instead of giving into the darkness, they looked within to find the light again.
After surviving the WWII Nazi death camps, Viktor Frankl spoke of his surprise with the existential vaccum that had fallen over Europe and the Western Hemisphere. Ryan Holiday writes in his new book, Courage Is Calling:
Good had prevailed over evil, yet no one was happy. No one had any hope. The world, Frankl said, was spiritually bombed out. Yet it was because of his experiences in the Holocaust that Frankl was not yet ready to despair. He posed an urgent question to all future generations: why did we bother to survive that awful hell scape, if none of this has any meaning?
The opposite of courage is not being afraid, it's apathy. It's disenchantment. It's despair. It's throwing up your hands and saying, what's the point anyway? If you fear there isn't anything you can do, chances are, you will do nothing. You will also be nothing. Protected, self justifying nothing.
People like Victor Frankl, Anne Frank, and Elie Wiesel didn’t have the means to storm into battle and mow down Nazis, as much as they may have wanted to. They carried a different type of courage, that which is available and attainable for every individual alive today.
They continued to see the world as good when the veil of evil fell all around them. They found the courage to see themselves as human beings full of potential when the world told them they were otherwise. They listened to their hearts when the easy thing to do would be to push the voice deeper and deeper, like so many others.
The work of a modern hero
Even in our daily trivial matters, we can be inspired by their stories to take on whatever it is that we have to take on with a smile, with a full heart, and with a helping hand.
Let their commitment to the good not be in vain. Let their collective human spirit live in us today and carry us forward as we progress as a people. Let them inspire us not to do what’s always been done, by our family, our friends, our neighbors.
I believe they would urge us to pave a new way, our way. The world needs courageous individuals to lead by example. When you feel the impending winds of the gathering storm, what path will you choose? Ryan Holiday writes in Courage Is Calling:
What will happen to me, nobody can tell you that. But with courage you can say to yourself, I'm not sure, but I will get through it with my soul intact, I will make the best of it, I will not be afraid.
You are not alone. No matter how dark life seems on the sunniest of days; no matter how badly you hurt despite others saying you shouldn’t; despite leaving all that you’ve ever known behind because you took a chance; just know, you’re not alone. Yours is the work of a modern hero, who bravely shines their light for all to see.