Courage is bigger than I am.
It’s bigger than my brain. It’s bigger than my life. It’s bigger than any definition I could find for it.
My culture doesn’t hold the rights to the word. My faith doesn’t have a monopoly on it. My country doesn’t hold the keys to it.
Let me tell you about some people whom I believe have earned the term.
The firefighter in Elsmere, KY that started as a volunteer in his teens. He gets paid now, I’m certain it’s not enough. Far too regularly, he goes into homes of complete strangers to save their lives and as much of those lives that he can. He doesn’t care if they agree with him or not. He doesn’t care what they look like or how they talk or how much money they make. He puts it on the line every day for people who would prefer to never meet him.
The veterans in my family and whom I work with. Still marked by scars, wounds, aches and pains from wars and years gone by, in some cases still going on. They have wrestled with forces beyond what many of us can imagine. There are still nightmares. And they are the ones that salute me.
The 3rd grader who barely speaks English, but fights everyday to learn more and more because her future is in those books. The rest of her life depends on learning those words and answering those questions.
The sportscaster who fought cancer for years and years and years and never gave up. He endured tremendous pain while he delivered NBA highlights and Top Ten lists… for our entertainment. He dared to leave a legacy for his daughters.
His daughters who will face the rest of their lives with memories instead of a father. They will go on first dates, learn to drive, go to prom, find young men worth spending their lives with, get engaged and married and that chair will always be empty.
There’s a young woman who endured unimaginable injury as a young girl. She still endures hatred for her appearance, for her politics, for who she is. She’s immensely talented, but most don’t know and few care. Not a day goes by that she doesn’t try to change the world for good.
The alcoholic fighting daily to keep that token. Right now, he’s working a job that almost didn’t hire him to make a barely livable wage to support a family that still lives on the edge of hope and despair, wondering if he’ll make it another day. He will. And he will again. And he will again.
The competitive runner who is recovering from an eating disorder that she’s had for most of her young adult life so she could stay fit and continue to compete in a culture that all but expects this lifestyle. She wrote a book about it.
A pope who is willing to say things that have never been said from that position before. He is a man who has dedicated his life to service of God and of others and he still sneaks out of the Vatican to speak with homeless people and wash their feet.
The college basketball player with an inoperable brain tumor. The burnt-out pastor. The gay couple that just got married. The EMT working a double shift to pay for college. The inner-city teacher that won’t give up. The 20-year old NYPD officer who’s back on the job after his partner got shot.
Everybody struggles with something. Everybody has the chance to rise above their past, their choices, their addictions, their mistakes, or anything else they choose to rise above. Few choose to rise above. Few choose to be courageous.
Those few, though, who fight and claw their way to a different, better version of themselves, they leave a mark on the world, on each of us. Some of them will make the evening news, most won’t. Some of them will win awards. Most won’t.
Those few, they are not more or less courageous if they do it in a uniform or in a classroom. They are not more or less courageous if they save another life or if they save their own. They are not more or less courageous if they look different, believe different, live different or even love different than I do.
The person who has lived a life of conflicted identity. Whose soul has never matched their body. Who has pursued and achieved excellence in the midst of astounding internal conflict. Who has faced every form of rejection and rebuke imaginable by anybody with a keyboard. Who, amidst all of that, believes that she has finally looked at her truest self.
I will never tell anyone they are not courageous.
Because courage is bigger than I am.