Courage. There are many different types of courage. There’s Harry Potter slowly, bravely walking knowingly to his death to save his friends, Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars facing her own death and the deaths of her friends from cancer, and in real life, firefighters going to work everyday facing danger for the wellbeing of others. There’s standing up for another like Atticus Finch, standing up for yourself like Jane Eyre, and standing up for what you believe in, Martin Luther King Jr. style. And there’s that moment that comes in TV detective shows, movie thrillers, and books of all genres, when the hero or heroine are in great danger and they could freeze, cower or faint—but instead they stand up with backs iron-straight, or trembling limbs, or brave, desperate words, and they charge or shoot or cover another person. All of us who have not encountered these varieties of courage look at the screen or the page with admiration and wonder quietly to ourselves, Would I have done that, if it was me? And the answer is usually Yes, of course I would be brave, of course I would stand up to the Nazis or take a bullet for my friend. Of course. But we don’t really know, do we?
I know what I would do. When that horror story closet door creaks open, I’ll be the one screaming.
One evening, I was in the back seat of my friend’s car as we drove around Minneapolis. The driver had a protected green light and was watching traffic as she turned right. The girl sitting shotgun was navigating, and the two in the back with me were talking animatedly, so I was the only one who saw him: A man dressed in black was walking diagonally across three lanes of traffic, coming right toward us, and I knew that no one else had noticed him. I didn’t think, didn’t calmly or intelligibly warn my friend, I didn’t use ninja moves to stop the car. My instant reaction was to scream and cover my face in my hands. Blessedly, the driver heard my scream, looked up at the man just in time, and threw on the brakes.
She was shaken up of course, and hugely grateful for my scream, but it had nothing to do with me. I understood at once what the books meant by “the scream was ripped from her throat”, because I had done nothing consciously, I had just let my body’s reaction take over, and apparently that was enough. I know now that if I get into a physically dangerous situation that requires courage, I will be less in control than my body’s instincts. What I don’t know about are those special kinds of courage that require sacrifice for others’ sakes and great strength of character. Would I have the courage to face a painful, lethal illness with grace? There are some things we truly cannot know until we face them, but we can trust that the grace of God and our own instincts will give us enough courage if we try.