I read Kaui Hart Hemmings’ new book, The Possibilities. It’s about a mother mourning the death of her 22-year-old son in an avalanche, and the book begins with her reentry into her regular schedule; returning to work and relationships. There were a bunch of lines that I noted in Charlotte, but the one that I wanted to unpack with you comes on page 88 when she is in a conversation with another mother who also lost her child in an avalanche:
“I think it’s wonderful that you’re back at work. I know it really helped me. It takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength.”
Is she complimenting me or herself? I hate the unearned kudos. People get shot in the head and are called brave when they recover. People lose a son in an avalanche and they’re suddenly admirable. I’ve done nothing. I have no courage. Courage is only possible when you choose to do something. I didn’t choose to lose him.
In other words, continuing to live life when shit happens isn’t brave. Bravery comes from seeing danger and choosing to move forward regardless of that danger instead of turning back, which is equally a choice. But the main character — Sarah St. John — doesn’t see continuing to exist after something horrible has happened, continuing to get up and go to work and eat meals, as courageous because what choice do you have? To simply stop? And if one does stop, would the character above call that cowardly by the very fact that it is the opposite of what she calls brave?
This idea obviously struck me because within our community, we deal with a lot of shit. And there are a lot of days when it feels pretty brave to get out of bed and keep moving despite everything you privately know inside your head and heart. Just because there is not a real choice in the matter — since stopping is just a fancy way of taking you on a fast track to death — doesn’t mean that it isn’t brave. She didn’t choose to lose him any more than any of us choose infertility or loss. But… I don’t know. It feels pretty brave sometimes continuing to interact in a world where the object of your depression is all around you. There is no way to move about the general world and not encounter babies, pregnant women, small changing tables hooked to public bathroom walls.
Is it only courage when you choose to do something? Or can it be courage simply to live with the situation you’re dealt?