Not terribly infrequently, someone in my life will take note of some or another new physical adventure I’m trying and say something like, “Wow, you’re brave!”
Truth is, I’m really not particularly brave, when it comes to physical feats of derring-do. I’m just wired for adventure. Temperamentally, I’m pretty fearless (which is both good and bad, all things considered) in that particular way.
If you do things that look scary to other people because you’re not afraid to do them, that’s not the same thing as being brave. Intrepid, I’ll give you, but bravery is a different kind of thing.
Bravery is being afraid to do something and doing it anyway.
So while I may be bold about physical challenges, I’m a complete coward about emotional ones.
Well, maybe not a complete coward, but not what you’d call “brave” by any normal definition of the word.
Or, well, I haven’t been.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to try it.
It’s weird how apparently-unrelated life experiences can suddenly coalesce into the beginnings of new adventures: graduation, ballet, PlayThink, goodness only knows what else. It’s hard to identify the streams of influence that lead to now.
But, anyway, those and a lot of things have made me think that it’s really time to try being brave in a way that I haven’t before.
I want to learn how to be brave emotionally — I may never be fearless, where my heart is concerned, in the way I am where my body is concerned, but I can learn to be brave. We can all learn how to be brave.
A caveat: I write a fair bit about myself, about some struggles that a lot of people would consider deeply personal, here.
That might look brave, too, but it isn’t, because it isn’t hard for me.
The truth is that here, in the blogosphere, in my very own blog, I hold the reins. I’ve got my finger on the button. I can shut the whole freaking thing down if things get hairy.
There are other bloggers to whom I feel a kind of tentative connection (in a “Wow, I really admire your blog/your comments/your thoughts, and you seem like a thoughtful person who actually cares about stuff” kind of way) — but I can always suck all my tentacles back into my shell and jet off into the abyss* if I feel threatened.
*I’m sure there’s some deep, abiding significance to the fact that I always use ocean-dwelling invertebrates in these analogies.
In short, I’m completely in control of what I share here, of how much other people sort of bleed over into my being.
Out there, in the big scary world of actually making connections and building friendships, things are completely different.
I don’t trust people — and while it’s true that my wariness about my fellow humans evolved for some very real reasons, it’s a tool which has, in its current form, outlived its usefulness.
I don’t make new friends in part because, for me, friendship is a deep connection, and the process of making that connection involves leaving doors open that, frankly, it scares the crap out of me to leave open. It means leaving my heart out there on the counter where anyone can just pick it up and stick it in the Vitamix**.
**I don’t actually own a Vitamix.
It means coping with the fact that maybe sometimes I will think someone is really interesting and hope they will be my friend, and they won’t.
It will mean that some of those interesting people will want to be my friends, but will also turn out to be human beings with complicated, messy lives (because we pretty much all have complicated, messy lives), and that I will love them anyway, and hurt when they hurt, and struggle when they struggle, and maybe I will sometimes even be overwhelmed by their struggles, just like they, G-d forbid, might sometimes be overwhelmed by mine.
It means negotiating all of the glorious, abstract mess that is the human heart.
The same goes for just being with people in the moment. I keep thinking back to some of the moments at PlayThink this year, those moments that overpowered my preconceptions about interacting with strangers and became, in and of themselves, transformative. In the past, I haven’t been very open to those moments. I want to change that.
I know that being open to those moments in a more conscious way involves risk. That’s fine (or, at least, I’m trying to convince myself that it is: work with me, here).
Living involves risk.
By way of a favorite analogy: every time you get get out of bed, you’re taking a risk. You could trip over your duvet and break your neck. However, if you just stay in bed, you’ll almost certainly die much sooner than you otherwise would — the medical complications of just lying in bed will kill you. Worse, you’ll miss so much of the amazing spectacle of life while you’re ensconced in your bed, staring at the same four walls.
Also, eventually, you’ll have to pee.
So it’s worth getting out of bed, even though you could trip over your duvet and die.
The weird part is that you have to have a reason to want to get out of bed. Telling yourself you should get out of bed to avoid the risk of dying from inactivity doesn’t really work. You have to want to experience the amazing spectacle of life (or at least, you have to not want to pee in your bed).
Until very recently, I have bemoaned the minuscule scale of my social circle, but apparently that alone hasn’t been enough to overcome inertia.
What has overcome that inertia, instead, is experience: the experience of being unexpectedly swept out of my frame and discovering that, hey, this connecting-with-people thing is pretty great, actually!
So I’m going to try to do more of it. I’m going to try to do less of the thing where I decide that interacting with a group of strangers sounds, frankly, terrifying (an emotion that my brain recasts as “stupid,” it sounds stupid, this activity is ridiculous, etc.).
I am going to get out there and try new things, emotionally speaking.
Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Who knows?
Regardless, I think I’ll be better off for having tried.
And maybe I’ll finally be able to say, “Yeah, you know what? Actually, I am pretty brave.”