Courage comes in many forms and it wears many faces. We often think of those who put themselves in harms’ way for the sake of others as being courageous. The firefighter who rushes into a burning building. The soldier who risks life and limb to save a buddy who’s been wounded. The mother who shields her baby from imminent danger.
This past week, I saw another face of courage. It was worn by a young woman who lives in Arizona, whose mother brought her across the border when she was an infant. All her life she lived in fear. In fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night. In fear of the police who patrol her neighborhood. In fear that when she came home from school her mother would be gone, taken to a detention center to be deported.
This young woman, now in her twenties, has declared her freedom from fear and has become an advocate for the rights of undocumented people just like herself. She has attended and spoken out at immigrant rights’ rallies. She has “bucked the system” and achieved both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from Arizona State. She has started a “language exchange” in Phoenix, where undocumented youth from her community can come and teach Spanish, thereby earning a little cash to support themselves while they also learn to speak English from their students. (See the video here: Spanish for Social Justice ) She is, in all aspects of her life, proclaiming her heritage, her identity and her status in the face of frightening, brutal and repressive forces. And she’s doing it with joy and love. The face of courage that I encountered last week wears a big smile, and it is beautiful.
After hearing this woman’s story, I’m called to ask myself where courage comes from. Not the “run into a burning building” courage (which, while certainly admirable, often is more a reaction to circumstance), but the kind that says “I’m in this for the long haul, no matter what.” The kind of courage that enables and empowers us to get out of bed, day after day, to face a world full of risk and danger. I have to believe that this kind of courage is grounded in love. In the love that we receive from others and in the love we have for the world.
We need a community of love around us to provide the foundation for all that we do. Knowing that we are loved, no matter what, by our family and our friends gives us the courage to venture out into a hostile world. It also forms the basis of our self-esteem, the basis of our belief that our lives matter and that we can make a difference. This kind of love empowers us to declare our own worth in the face of those who would deny it.
A love of the world calls us to engage with it, in all its beauty and all its horror. When we love the world, like a parent with a troublesome child, we acknowledge its imperfections, yet we cast our gaze to the horizon of its potential. Love for the world allows us, in the words of Bobby Kennedy, “to dream things that never were, and say, why not?” And it creates in us the commitment to do what we can to make those dreams a reality.
As I move through the days ahead, I will carry the image of this young woman with me. She is, for me, the new face of courage.