Sometimes courage whispers or doesn’t speak at all.
“Courage doesn't always roar,” says Mary Anne Radmacher. “Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.”
That kind of courage looks a lot like perseverance or persistence – like a little voice at the end or beginning of the day. Every day, throughout the day, most of us are engaging in our lives with courage in just these ways. Despite our fears, we move ahead, take chances and exercise the courage of being human, the courage to live and to live well, or at least to try to. We keep going.
Sometimes getting up in the morning or going to the dentist or doctor are acts of courage. Parenting, caretaking, being vulnerable, being honest, not taking that drink, getting healthy, listening, getting on an airplane, or going to work can be acts of courage. Going on a retreat or taking time for oneself can take courage. So can choosing not to go along with the crowd.
This is not the typical way our society envisions courage. Yet, this represents one approach to courage, a subtle stick-to-itiveness. Such courage moves ahead when conditions aren’t ideal, when thrown a curveball, when there’s no reward, when other plans had to put aside, and when no one is watching. It means living with integrity – just doing one’s human duty – day after day.
Just think of all those moments during the day when working behind the scenes. No one notices. No one says thank you. Rather than feeling resentment, you keep on because it means being true to yourself and your own values, because it matters to do what you are doing.
This steady courage relates to integrity, to being true to one’s ethics and values when it’s inconvenient as well as convenient, when it’s not remarked upon as well as when it is. This being human so often happens with a quiet voice in small ways that are in reality anything but small and arguably not even so quiet. It’s the kind of courage that doesn’t often get a lot of accolades. Most of us are even likely to just view that as life, just the way life is, just living every day, just what has to be done to get by. Maybe that’s true. And I think it is.
But I also have been wondering this week about whether we spend enough time noticing those quiet acts of courage, acknowledging them to ourselves as courageous, and giving ourselves some encouragement.
I don’t mean we should be overly self-congratulatory. That would be the opposite of the quiet voice of courage. But what if we were just to notice that our lives are made up of just such moments. And a whole life lived that way is going to be a pretty spectacular life.
For me, getting out of bed in the morning isn’t a particular act of courage. But it is for some people. For some who suffer from depression or are facing a difficult challenge in their lives, getting out of bed can be one of the scariest things of all.
One of my worst fears is the dentist. I know I’m not alone in that. I could avoid going but I know that could have some dire consequences. I’m pretty rational and science-oriented about these things. I know that dental health is crucial to good overall health. So I go despite my dental anxiety. And I certainly don’t expect anyone to say, great job, Sandra. You did it. Nor do I want them too. It may not be monumental, but I do give myself a small pat on the back afterward.
There are other kinds of quiet courage. When I visited my hairdresser this week, she shared with me that she had adopted a rescue dog - a dog that had been left in Texas during the hurricane. The dog was found chained up, standing in rising water. The dog had a limp and had been taken to a shelter that did not have a no-kill policy. So she agreed to take the dog. She wasn’t portraying this as an act of courage.
In fact, you might ask “where’s the courage in that?” Well, if you’ve ever adopted an animal with a difficult or unknown history, you know that you don’t know exactly what you might need to deal with in terms of behavior or medical care. It’s the courage of taking a chance on this animal. What if the limp turns out to be something medically quite serious and costly? What if the animal has some psychological challenges? You don’t know. Still you carry on.
There are all the other small acts of courage and kindness – in Texas, in Florida, in the Caribbean, in Puerto Rico, in Mexico – following all the natural disasters. Some of these actions make it into the news and we are reminded when we hear these stories of the best of the human spirit, of just what people are capable of. The levels of compassion and heroism are astounding, heartwarming, and inspiring. This is a reminder of what people are capable of – of what we are capable of - of that little voice, that actually isn’t all that little to the person who is helped.
A small act of courage by one person can be monumental in their life and in the life of another. Who knows how far it will reach. It might save a life, make life worth living, bolster another person, change the very arc of their lives – and even change the course of history.
The story of Miep Gies is just such an example. How many recognize that name? You probably will when I share her story. During the Second World War, Miep Gies, along with her husband and a number of others, was part of group that helped eight Jewish people hiding in a Secret Annex in Amsterdam. Miep worked as Otto Frank’s secretary. Their office building was connected to that Annex. The group was eventually betrayed and those in hiding were deported. Miep and a colleague hid the diary of the youngest of the eight they had helped to hide. Her name, of course, was Anne Frank. Miep stored Anne’s writings in her desk drawer. She didn’t read them. She hoped to return them to Anne after the war. After the war, Anne’s father returned having survived the concentration camps. Anne had perished. Miep gave him the papers. Anne’s diary was published under the title The Annex in 1947.
Miep Gies has been described as a quiet and ordinary woman. An ordinary woman who sheltered Anne Frank in her attic for two years. Miep said, “I don’t want to be considered a hero. Imagine [if] young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people, because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.”
Courage doesn’t always roar.
I want to share a little more of her ordinary story in her words. Miep Gies wrote:
I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more – much more - during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the hearts of those of us who bear witness. Never a day goes by that I do not think of what happened then. More than twenty thousand Dutch people helped to hide Jews and others in need of hiding during those years. I willingly did what I could to help. My husband did as well. It was not enough.
There is nothing special about me. I have never wanted special attention. I was only willing to do what was asked of me and what seemed necessary at the time. When I was persuaded to tell my story, I had to think of the place that Anne Frank holds in history and what her story has come to mean for the many millions of people who have been touched by it. I’m told that every night when the sun goes down, somewhere in the world the curtain is going up on the stage play made from Anne’s diary. Taking into consideration the many printings of The Annex – published in English as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – and the many translations that have been made of Anne’s story, her voice has reached the far edges of the earth. (“Prologue,” Anne Frank Remembered. The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family, Miep Gies, http://www.miepgies.nl/en/)
“I have never wanted special attention. I was only willing to do what was asked of me and what seemed necessary at the time.” She only shared her story because she recognized how important Anne Frank’s story had become to people, how it reached the far edges of the earth.
Those are remarkable sentiments. It is not false humility. It is the authentic embrace of what people find themselves called to do, responding yes to what is asked of them, of what is theirs to do. This truly is what it means to be a person of faith, to be a full human being, to have a heart of compassion, and a life of joy and service.
We never quite know where that little voice, those whisperings, will take us and others.
I want to leave you with one more story, a story from Mary Anne Radmacher. When a friend of hers was dying of pancreatic cancer, their community gathered at the time of the friend’s passing. Later, when the memorial service was held, their circle of friends gathered again, taking the afternoon off from work.
All but Mary Anne. She chose to stay home. She said she had already spent weeks mourning and memorializing her friend. She stayed home and wrote words that have become popular, words that can be found on Pinterest or on a Google Search or on a plaque somewhere. They are what Mary Anne says her friend taught her about how to live courageously. Here are those words:
Live with intention.Walk to the edge.Listen hard.Practice wellness.Play with abandon.Laugh.Choose with no regret.Appreciate your friends.Continue to learn.Do what you love.Live as if this is all there is. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q26FoacvgDs)
Amen. Blessed be.