My ten-month-old daughter and I flew from Michigan to Florida to visit my in-laws. I packed all her baby amenities (clothes, food, gear) and my amenities (clothes, food, books) into duffel bags, and my husband dropped us off at the airport. The ticket agent told me I was brave to travel alone with a baby. Using the ladies’ room with my daughter strapped to my back in her Baby Bjorn, I had to agree.
We boarded the plane and found our seat (one adult plus one lap child). Behind us sat a woman holding a newborn and a toddler (one adult plus lap child, plus another full-fared seat). I turned around to do the baby small talk thing—How old? How big? How great!—and learned that this woman had been flying for thirty-seven hours, with her eighteen-month and three-week old babies, from Qatar, and was on her way to a funeral.
Qatar? I didn’t even know where that was.
My badge of self-satisfied Brave shriveled up as quickly as a blossom in the Arabian Desert—which is where Qatar is, incidentally, as I later found out. Witnessing this other mother’s real-Brave had put my sham-Brave to shame; I felt silly having reveled in the ticket agent’s compliment.
For the duration of the flight, which was all of two hours, I conjured up scenarios in my mind that would test my resolution and strength. Would I be able to step up when I needed to? Step in front of a charging dog? Go first getting a flu shot? Take the smaller piece of pizza? I had never faced a seriously dire circumstance; for all I knew, my resourcefulness might be a wide and shallow well, quickly evaporating in the heat of a moment.
Does Brave even have intrinsic value or is it relative to each situation? Is it strictly subjective or is there a Brave standard, like a minimum amount of courage required to be deemed Brave? We hear the word thrown around describing everything from Kim Kardashian’s nude photos to victims at the Boston Marathon bombing, and we know there is a difference, but what is it?
Bravery, it seems, is as elusive as good taste: notable when it’s there, forgivable when it’s not. Sitting in the dentist’s waiting room recently with my daughter, I observed this case-in-point when the mother of an older and visibly more anxious boy said loudly to her son, “Look how brave that little girl is—you should be that brave.”
Was it good that my daughter was brave? Sure. Was it also fine that her boy wasn’t? Yes, the dentist can be scary.
Brave changes as we get older, it changes when we become parents. It evolves from a reaction to a deliberate act. It inspires us to step out of our comfort zone, to take risks, to do the right thing even when it’s hard. Brave is personal, the flip side of fear, a composite of altruism, conviction, and hope.
My Brave will seem like nothing to some, others will respect and honor my daring. Who can say what it takes to face a challenge head on? The essence of bravery lies in our uniqueness, in the beauty of our differences, shortcomings, and strengths. To find your Brave you must find your own fear; find your truth. And know, that whether it’s Qatar or Florida you’re headed to, we’re here with you on the plane.