A Letter from Reverend Jeanne
Courage is not about not being afraid.
It is about being afraid and doing what you need to do anyway.
The way we see courage depicted in literature, art, and drama is all over the map. We see the coward who suddenly seems converted to bravery, the strong, admired hero who cowers when confronted with the truth and the anti-hero who winds up sticking around to take a with strangers. It makes sense that we don’t agree on courage, the need for it and whether we ought still to imagine we can encourage it in our culture.
This plays out in interesting ways. Parents often teach their children to be more risk adverse than brave out of a fear that they might be injured. Those with significant fears seek therapies or martial arts trainings. Some practice heroism rescuing Zelda. Others face the challenges of Marine boot camp. We all have some strategy for figuring out courage…including denial that it matters to us at all.
What I think is important for each of us to learn, know and remember about courage is this: it happens with fear. Being afraid is usually found right along with courage. People who are brave without fear are just reckless. Courageous always know a lot about fear and yet they also know about doing what is required anyway. They are in touch with the heart within. They know the possible cost. They understand the risk. But they will not excuse themselves from what is required just because they fear what might follow. What must be done, must be done anyway.
I admire courage more than just about any virtue when it serves others, risks for others. When I first saw the photos of Birmingham youth braving the water cannons and dogs of that city, I was amazed at their bravery. When I read the story of Wesley Autrey, who leapt to the aid of a stricken subway rider by flinging his body over the man on the tracks, I was in awe. When I think of the firefighters walking up the World Trade tower, I am humbled. But I am also taken with the politician who takes responsibility, the bystanders who get involved, the teacher who challenges the system or the employee who complains about how someone else is being treated. Which is to say…I am often privileged to be proud of you.
Rev. Jeanne M. Pupke
First Unitarian Universalist Church