“Courage is the most important of all the virtures because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” Maya Angelou
We often think courage is something other people possess, and yet, 2020 offered us lesson after lesson of every day courage. The year offered us silent moments of reflection and beautiful illustrations of courage – of resolve – of heroism – of intrepidness – of bravery – of grit.
To date, according to the New York Times, the global pandemic has taken nearly 385,000 American lives, and we would be hard pressed to find someone not impacted by the virus, directly or indirectly. Since March, the news has been filled with brilliant examples of courageous acts: teachers masterfully meeting the emotional and social needs of their students in a virtual classroom; health care providers comforting isolated patients fighting for their lives, or worse, holding their patients’ hands as they took their last breaths – separated from their families; the custodial staffs tasked with disinfecting our hospitals as the deadly virus swept through; families whose livelihoods relied on the service sector, struggling to make ends meet as businesses closed; small business owners who have poured their hearts into their crafts, facing bankruptsy without the flow of customers; the elderly secluded in their rooms, unable to interact face-to-face with their familes; and on, and on, and on….
Non-COVID19 lessons have also demanded our attention in the murders of black Americans, and specifically the murder of black men. When a black man is more than 2.5 times likely to be killed by police than his white peer, we perhaps take pause (https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793). What the Black community has been enduring for centuries could no longer be ignored by a white supremist culture. Courageous, protestors of all races and ethnicities joined the Black Lives Matter movement, often facing opposition or fearing attack by forces protected with shields and armed with rubber and real bullets, tear gas.
Courage is coming in the voices of every day people demanding, “Enough is enough.” Courage comes in knowing the color of your skin puts you at risk in America. Courage emerges as Americans, especially those of us who identify as white, wrestle with racism, listen to those speaking their truths, and work to shift institutional and cultural ideology. Courage comes as white people face their implicit and explicit bias and acknowledge their role in a white supremist culture.
After watching the historical, surreal events unfolding in our nation’s Capitol – America’s house – the personification of democracy, I am struck by the courage on so many levels. While our history as a nation is fraught with ethnocentric misogyny and a myriad of other flaws, the courage it takes 328+ million human beings sprad across 3.8 million square miles of land to live their own realities. Regardless of how we feel about politics – or who is in public office – or with which political party we identify (if we do) – the courage it takes for members of Congress to do our nation’s work is incredible. They do not have more intelligence or insight than you or I, but they are brave enough to try to make a difference.
The insurrection on our Capitol shook many of us. As the events were unfolding, my 24-year-old son sent me text upon text. He admitted he couldn’t focus on work, and he felt like crying. My response, “You should not be working. This is a catastrophe of epic proportion. It’s okay to cry. I am.” I sat glued to the television with a lump in my throat and watery eyes, not because I could not believe what I was seeing, but because I felt like I should do something. I just did not know, in the moment, what I could do other than console my children and my friends.
Over the past week, I have landed on the courage it is going to take of all of us to understand how we each of us has such a different perception of the reality of living in this country. It will take courage for us to admit to our misconceptions, and our part in the rhetoric. It will also take great bravery for us, as a country, to have difficult discussions with our families and our friends – with our communities – with people we perceive as enemies despite sharing the same national identification.
We have had quite a year, individually and collectively. We have experienced social unrest on so many levels, and yet, here we are. Every day, we stand on the cusp of new opportunities to make daring choices to be better than we were yesterday. As neighbors – as communities – as congregations – as families – we can be brave; our collective courage will allow us to shift paradigms and practices. Collective courage will be our saving grace. #MakeRoomForJoy #Courage