“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”
That’s how Eddie Rickenbacker, an ace aviator in World War I, described his own feelings about facing danger and overcoming obstacles. It’s a comment I take comfort in because I don’t see myself as especially bold, physically or emotionally. I’m more of a retreater than a “world beater,” as someone I once knew liked to call movers and shakers. So it wasn’t especially surprising when a friend of mine told me in so many words, “I’ve been thinking about that piece you shared. I know it’s very personal and it means a lot to you, but I think you’re only going halfway with it. To do what I think you want to, you need to go deeper and write about the loss and pain your story just touches on now. If this is your year of writing dangerously, you’ve got to put more of yourself on the page.”
She was right, of course. I’d been feeling the same way in my heart. The piece is polished, but it’s far from complete. It can be more, say more, if I’m willing to be more self-revealing and vulnerable.
This conversation took place right before we attended a two-hour workshop. The woman who gave it was a journalist for more than 20 years; after a career spent reporting about other people, she found herself struggling with a heartbreaking event: the still birth of her daughter and only child. Ultimately, she was able to write about her experience in what she called a “spiritual autobiography.” Writing this book not only helped her, it’s helped others facing devastating loss. Today, she said, she fulfills her mothering spirit by helping people use writing as a way of sorting through traumatic or defining events in their lives.
What courage! To be willing to share on the page the kind of loss she endured and offer comfort to others through this act of generosity and her willingness to be vulnerable. Where does this kind of courage come from? What does it take to bring this same boldness of the heart to the page?