Bravery is stepping into who you are, in all of your brokenness, because that’s where the beauty is hiding and waiting for permission to radiate.
We all have broken parts; parts we would rather hide from the collective, only resulting in more isolation and sadness. Being vulnerable is terrifying sometimes, but it is one of the most liberating and life-changing human experiences we can have—if we allow it to be so.
Let’s break that down literally. What does it mean to be brave?
We have varying levels of accurate understanding regarding this word. In my experience and opinion, bravery is a concept more than it is a word with a simple linear definition. As a society, we teach bravery to our up-and-coming littles to help them grow strong, but even though our intentions may be well-placed, our generational conditionings are a bit askew, if you ask me.
If you were to ask a small child what “being brave” means, most often they respond with a version of being scared and doing it anyway, which is spot on.
But as kids grow into adolescents and then into adulthood, the message of bravery turns into, “don’t cry.” As in, “you better not f*cking cry because not only are you not brave if you cry, but you are weak.”
Is there any further question as to why we are such a mess these days?
And our poor, sweet little boys: they get the wallop the hardest, I’m afraid.
For generations in our culture and that of other cultures, being a young male and being told to be brave, generally and in most cases, translates to being told to be physically strong, displaying no emotion—other than anger—and oftentimes, using violence to solve situations.
What if we entertained the theory that bravery is more of an emotional concept? Me, personally? I think this is where the beauty is hiding.
The more I started to dissect this idea a few years ago, or more poignantly, when I began to allow this idea to dissect me, my former surface-level understanding of bravery shifted.
Through a series of life-altering experiences—which completely unzipped me—a totally transformed, but somewhat raw, bruised, and terrified person stepped out and had no idea how to walk, talk, eat, or move through the world.
One such cataclysmic event was coming out about my sexuality as a gay woman at the age of 35.
By then, I was in so much pain that it was either walk into the fire and let my former self burn down to ashes, or physically die, which sounds like one and the same, but definitely isn’t.
One is about surrendering to what we are being asked to do (bravery), and the other is about giving up. My five children were pretty young at the time. I didn’t even know how to be gay; I just knew I was gay.
After I had taken some time to adjust to the new person I was becoming, it was time to tell my littles; that was excruciatingly daunting, to say the least.
Along the way, since that sharp left turn in my life, there have been small and large experiences that have contributed to my understanding of this emotional concept of bravery to which I now subscribe and hold myself accountable.
Bravery often involves crying—the gulping kind where you aren’t pretty—and sometimes you end up on the floor curled up in the fetal position until the storm passes.
Staying astraddle on the bravery balance beam is about laying our whole selves out there, feeling our emotions as a result of whatever life is demanding of us, not asking anyone, including ourselves, for forgiveness about our emotions, and definitely not apologizing for the way we feel.
Whatever you are being asked to do, or to walk through, boldly wear your feelings and emotions while walking through the fire.
A friend once told me that sometimes our strength comes out in tears. I felt that. Bravery is acting in alignment with who you are deep in your soul in the face of oppression, non-acceptance, threat, fear, and grief—the great deep canyon of pain.
Broken: easily defined as something that is no longer together as it once was.
Once something is broken apart—no matter how intricately we fix it or put it back together—it will ever appear as it once did.
That, however, does not necessarily mean that its strength is compromised. Every single human on this planet is a little broken; some more than others. Some have been shredded and ripped sideways and it’s amazing they are still standing.
Others have experienced deep trauma and don’t feel safe sharing it with anyone. There is the deep brokenness of losing a child, failed marriages, or terminated relationships we thought would last forever.
Perhaps we’ve lost a career due to the pandemic or some other situation that is out of our control. Or conversely, choosing to walk away from a stable career in order to follow one’s passion—a decision weighted largely with fear and bravery.
There is the brokenness that follows hard choices, even if they are the right ones for personal reasons. Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it was not the right choice; it was a hard choice, and it broke you a little bit.
That hit home for me during my divorce.
I had always been one to second-guess myself during a period of brokenness that followed a hard choice. I would equate that pain to having made the wrong decision.
Now I find that sometimes when it comes to making choices, there ends up being more pain in the right choice.
Pain, bravery, and brokenness—including vulnerability—are a triad buddy circle and they can be seen walking hand-in-hand quite often.
I have two mom friends who have both lost one of their children respectively. As a mother myself, I can’t wrap my mind or heart around that kind of brokenness or the bravery it takes to keep facing each day: work, tasks, mundane responsibilities, not to mention, caring for the other children who remain.
That, in my opinion, is brokenness, vulnerability, and bravery incarnate.
And this is where the beauty comes in.
There is amazing beauty in breaking down; waiting to radiate its powerful light through those broken parts of our hearts and souls that we picked up off the floor and somehow reattached.
Those fissures and cracks are where the light finds its way back into our lives, offers us a new direction, or soothes us as we share our pain with others.
Those cracks allow us to radiate our light out into the universe to illuminate the way for others who are struggling in the dark, looking for the strength to make that first courageous step forward, trying to gain a foothold.
There can be incredible beauty and intense vulnerability in our process.
It takes bravery and courage to live deeply and be thoroughly invested in our lives, despite wracking, wretched pain.
Or in the case of spiritual breakdowns—or breaking-ins, as I like to call them—which also include a physical breakdown, finding yourself lying on the kitchen floor unable to get up because your entire life, as you knew it, is burning to ashes before your eyes.
We are letting go of who we were and becoming the person who is born from within our hearts, not yet knowing how to be that person.
I am often reminded of the Japanese tradition of kintsugi, where when something breaks they will often use golden glue to put the pieces back together, honoring each shattered shard and piecing them back to the whole, continuing to use the changed item and displaying proudly as before. I find that incredibly relevant to the human experience.
It’s my ultimate dream that humans, as a collective, come together and recognize that we don’t have to hide our broken parts from one another.
We can share them, bask in them, reveal them, and allow them to heal others.
Let them radiate through the cracks with bravery and compassion.
How beautiful would that be?