I once taught a kid who was a good downhill skier. There was a theory going about the staffroom that his ability went along with a sort of fearlessness that allowed him to barrel down a (literally) slippery slope at the best part of 100mph without fully appreciating the potential consequences. Which, if I understand correctly, are like that bit in Cool Runnings when John Candy goes on about bones not breaking, but instead shattering. It's a question to be asked: if you don't feel the fear, are you brave? Isn't what bravery really is exactly the ability to master the fear that one really feels? I suppose you could set up an analogy with physical pain: someone doesn't have a high pain tolerance if they just don't feel the pain in the first place. You need to feel the pain to tolerate it. I sometimes wonder about myself, actually, whether I feel pain more intensely than others in some situations or whether I am just a wuss about it. And that goes for both the physical type, and the even-less-easy-to-quantify mental type.
After coming off my bike, I was surprised - and, truth be told, marginally disappointed - to be diagnosed as having a grade 1 sprain of my AC joint. I was expecting to be told I had least broken a few bones for my trouble, and to be wrapped in several layers of bandage and perhaps even plaster to show off my predicament. But no, a cloth sling and physio were my only 'rewards' to show for it. When a kid does something physically destructive (and painful) to themselves, they get told they are brave for dealing with the pain. I didn't even get a hint of a nod that it might be uncomfortable. Indeed, they recommended paracetamol, which gives a very clear indication of how much they though it hurt.
I've never been brave. When I was playing rugby or cricket, I was not the one willing to put my body on the line to win. In fact, I was generally the one finding the excuse to stay out of the way of the fast bowler or the big fella on the other team. I've never had the sense that I can master the fear and be calm even when it gets to me. I wonder how different I would be if I could. Although that said, there have been a couple of occasions when I have stood up and performed in front of people and felt nervous, and been able to channel that into something positive. Maybe 'nervous' just isn't the same as 'afraid'. Whatever, I'd love to be able to get near a stage and feel nervous at the moment...
What takes courage? Admitting you're wrong, perhaps, is something that doesn't have that physical edge to it, but still takes courage. Staying silent when you could open your mouth... I'm not very good at that one. Saying 'no' to someone who wanted 'yes'... Or the other way around. These are the run-of-the-mill situations in which someone average like me might find themselves called on to be courageous. Being kind to someone who is not kind back, perhaps. Sometimes, it's not clear which is the brave option, which the selfish, which the craven, whether to act decisively or be passive and let it happen. Sometimes it's not clear which is the kind option, and that's both looking inwards and outwards. I'd pray for guidance, but then I find that I'm arguing with myself, telling myself I'm not superstitious. This, usually, as I watch a pair of magpies and smile, or a single one with a frown. I don't even know whether I'd like to be brave(r) or not. I suppose I don't want the responsibility of making decisions that might hurt others, even though I find myself with that responsibility here and there. And when there are no clever workarounds, such as creating a second, human, Doctor to let Rose have him (can you tell that I've been watching Doctor Who from the 2005 (re)start recently?), no hitherto-undiscovered magic powers to solve the otherwise unsolvable, then you're left with the decision as to which you'd rather feel: is it regretting the one thing or the other? Accepting that it will hurt either way is probably the first stage of coming to an actual decision, but anyone even remotely like me, with a mind that ruminates as a matter of routine, will know that 'decision' is probably the toughest thing. Because no decision ever feels made until it is acted out. Perhaps the monkey on my shoulder will one day fall silent and I will be content to settle on one course rather than dwell on the possibilities of the choices, but I doubt it. What we do in life echoes in eternity...
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought