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cour·age [kur-ij] the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear

I used to believe courage was a characteristic possessed by great people doing great things, like Superman and Wonder Woman. Some were born with it and others, like me, were not. I seemed to be afraid of everything as a child: swimming pools (because of sharks), dark basements (monsters), and mirrors (ghosts). The whole world.

And after my adult trauma the fear only intensified. But my imagination didn’t conjure up fake monsters anymore. Instead experience gave each shadow a face and each gut wrenching twinge a real life memory to go with it.

Not even blankets and stuffed talismans could chase away the panic growing inside.

Yet people continued to congratulate me on being a survivor. “You’re so courageous!” they’d say as I half-smiled and nodded and died inside, ashamed of the fear I hid from everyone.

How could I be courageous when I felt so afraid?

Impossible, it seemed, like light and dark occupying the same space at the same time.

Since then I’ve had to adjust a lot of definitions in my life. Success, love, belief, faith, etc. My understanding of everything seems to be constantly evolving—a perpetual “butterfly soup”—and now I’ve learned I need to add another concept to the list: courage.

Because I think the above definition is old and needs to be re-written. At least, I know it needs to be re-written in my life. So here I go… my attempt at redefining what courage means to me.

Courage is… standing small.

Small things, Big things

Copyright © 2008 Sherman Geronimo-Tan via Flickr, cc Some rights reserved

It’s recognizing that bravery can be shown in small ways and that it is acting IN SPITE OF fear, not in the absence of it. Some days that looks like taking a step outside. Turning a doorknob seems small, but in my PTSD world, the feat can be monumental. It can also look like running errands by myself, chatting with a stranger or sharing my opinion.

It means facing difficulty and fear and, no matter how small, letting my best effort be enough.

Standing small will look different for everyone. What will it look like for you?

Know it. Accept it. You are courageous!

My favorite example of standing small comes from my friend’s 5-year-old daughter.

A boy had come to school dressed in a cute graphic T-shirt that happened to have (heaven forbid!) pink as part of the design. Another girl in class pointed at him and exclaimed, “You wore a GIRL’s shirt to school!” He said he didn’t and she pointed to the pink and replied, “It has pink on it and pink is only for girls.”

As the boy looked away in shame, my friend’s little girl piped up, “I love your shirt and I think you look really good in pink!”

*cheers wildly*

Small person, small action, but huge impact in this kindergartner’s world.

Standing small… because as we credit ourselves with the small acts of courage, I believe we find strength to overcome the bigger facets of fear.