Sunday, January 8, 2012

Think About Courage

It's hard to say good-bye. Even to an abstraction of time, such as a year. What does it really mean to say that 2011 is over and 2012 has begun?

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I don't need to wait until the beginning of a new year to try to better myself. For me, it's a daily process, a weekly process, a forever process. As it happens, though, 2011 was a tough year for me for a number of reasons, and the unpleasant whirlwind began in January. Consequently, for most of the year, I struggled to center myself again and it seems that the end of December is when I started to find some sort of balance, or, at the very least, some kind of peace for myself. It's not solidified yet, but these things rarely are. So, despite my aversion to New Year's resolutions, it seems that as the new year has begun, I am also beginning again.

Still, it's hard to say good-bye to a year that seemingly passed me by, as I merely went through the motions much of the time...just trying to get through each day. In my haze I often forgot to be thankful for all of the positive elements and people in my life, of which there are many; and I'm remembering to be thankful now.

I see, in my memory, a collage of the many new friends I met this past year--smart, creative, unique people whom I'm fortunate to have crossed paths with. These new friends (along with my other already "established" friends...and family, too, of course) mean more to me than they probably even realize. (It's also amazing, by the way, how some small words of encouragement from people you've never met--but feel like you know anyway, merely because you're experiencing (or have experienced) similar situations--can make such a difference. My Twitter friends--you know who you are--I thank you as well.)

And here's something I've learned: it takes courage to heal; it takes courage to live your life the way you want to live it, the way you need to live it.

In October I signed up for a Grand Canyon hiking adventure trip for the week between Christmas and New Year's. I couldn't easily afford it, but I knew I needed to do it, so I dipped into my savings. I needed to start the new year in a different way, in a way that would help me shake off the pain and sorrow of 2011. But signing up for a trip three months in advance is different than the looming reality of it when it's two weeks away. By mid-December, I was nervous. Taking a trip with a bunch of people I didn't know? What was I thinking?

But I had also started reading a book called Only Pack What You Can Carry: My Path to Inner Strength, Confidence, and True Self-Knowledge by Janice Booth. Although it may sound like it, it's not a self-help book (I don't read those, on principle). Published by National Geographic, this book is part memoir, part adventure story, part geography lesson, and part history class. Booth, a travel writer, writes about her adventures as she combats her fears and finds the courage to be an active participant in her own life.

Booth refers to courage as a muscle that gets strengthened with use. As a teenager I made a rule to myself not to avoid activities that I really wanted to do just because the prospect seemed scary. Shy and awkward back then [as now...], I convinced a friend to audition for the junior high play with me. I landed a part. I had always loved acting but, at the same time, I was terrified. Of what? Of being judged by my peers? Probably, but after I got the part, that supposed judgment didn't even matter. My courage muscle became stronger.

Once you do something that's somewhat frightening, the next time it is not so intimidating. I acted in plays throughout high school; it was as natural to me as breathing. When I went out for roller derby a couple years ago, I was petrified. I loved it, though: the fast-pace, the danger, the intense workouts. I'm not dissuaded by physically demanding exercise: if you can do roller derby, you can do anything!

After spending this past year just trying to keep up with the day-to-day, my courage muscle needed strengthened again. My trip to the Grand Canyon (just over a week ago) was amazing, possibly the perfect antidote. Five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, and less than one percent make it down to the bottom (a smaller amount actually hike down, since some ride the mules), and now I am one of that small percentage of people who have hiked down to the bottom and back up again.

And I'm ready to do it again.

My courage muscle is flexed; bring on the next adventure!


  1. And it would not have been the same trip without you. That sounds awfully hackneyed, but....recall the Chinese proverb that one cannot put one's foot into the same river twice. And your presence on the GC hike created an experience that would not have been the same without you.

    By the way, for you, the hike required courage. Who knows what it required of others ?

    1. Thank you, Joan; it would not have been the same without you either.