I want to talk to you about courage.
Not the kind where you rescue a stranger from a burning building, when fear and sheer adrenaline drive you. And not the kind where your convictions overrule your better judgment and make you stand up to a bully.
Those kinds of courage are bursts from a state of calm to action to the shakiness that comes in the aftermath of action. They are honest and noble and should not be discounted, but there are other kinds of courage too.
Like the kind of courage it takes to continue living when you feel like you’ve died inside after your husband is taken by pancreatic cancer. That kind of courage has no catalyst. It takes faith and willpower and draws on everything else you are to summon it.
The courage to keep living starts as a tiny seed and grows very slowly, like an apple tree. From a small seed that escapes a ripe apple, to a sprout, to a sapling, to a stem with a few young branches, to a small tree and finally to its glorious adulthood where it bears fruit and ensures survival of its species.
Grief can summon that kind of courage. It triggers either a will to die or a will to live, a crossroads where a decision is mandatory. And if there is a seed of courage anywhere in your being, you choose life.
There is pain that comes with the decision — growing pains of sorts. But from the seed comes the sprout and eventually you find yourself re-emerging into life as a transformed being. Not the same as you were before you lost your spouse. Changed. Different. But just as alive.
It takes courage to let yourself change. It requires letting go of some parts of yourself, and letting other parts become something different. And it takes patience, because this kind of courage grows slowly and steadily with the passing of days and the living of life.
Once you realize you have rejoined the stream that is life, you find you are part of an orchard. You are not alone as you thought you were when your spouse died. You are part of a community of people who are trying to live their lives through their own pain and disappointments, but also through their joys and successes.
It takes courage to mingle actively with the members of your community, or to meet new people who could become part of your orchard. It means you have to open up areas of your heart and mind you were sure you had sealed off forever when your spouse died.
It means you have to find the courage to care. And caring opens doors that expose vulnerability.
I’m not talking about intimate love relationships specifically. I mean any new relationship with any person new to us.
When my husband Jim died, I held people at arm’s length emotionally, but as time progressed, that kind of protection seemed less necessary. My courage to keep living eventually grew into a new inner strength.
A strength that nudges my desire to meet new people, try new things, attend community events, live my life to the fullest I can without my husband beside me.
Having courage to live does not require a cape like Wonder Woman or Superman; it has no mantle at all. It is a state of mind. A conviction to positive outcomes that resides deep in your soul. A kernel, that with the proper nurturing, can grow, blossom and bear fruit lovely and healthy enough to give you quality of life again.
As it turns out, I have this kind of courage. My guess is that you do too.