What, Me Brave?

1 May


Over the past week or so I have received a lot of compliments on my writing.  While I am grateful for the kind words, I am saddened by the need to write the missive that led to those kudos.  The folks who said such nice things were volunteers at our museum, and the document they complimented was not my blog, but sadly a letter announcing the passing of the spouse of one of my coworkers.  His sudden departure from this world and the brief and difficult illness that preceded it hit many of us quite hard, to say nothing of his wife (my colleague) who undoubtedly will spend a very long time coming to terms with the terrible heartache she’s experienced over the past few months. 

Compliments about my writing have been fairly common over the past six months.  Whether driven by an obligation to say something nice to me or by a genuine belief that my work has struck a chord, many of you who read these posts have written or said some wonderful things about my blog.  I have received compliments on the clarity of my writing, the veracity of my insight, and the success of my occasional joke.  Your Facebook comments in response to my blog posts have portrayed me as wise, steady, funny, honest, and, most surprising of all, brave.    

This last point, comments about my alleged bravery, doesn’t quite sit right with me. Naturally I am pleased—flattered, really—that anyone would call me brave, because prior to this experience no one has ever described me in that way.   I am known for many things but bravery is not one of them.  I have never jumped out of a plane, climbed a mountain (or even taken a terribly difficult hike), slayed a dragon, returned the Ring of Sauron to the fiery furnace from whence it came, nor willingly taken on any adventure or task that might test my courage in any significant way.  In the realm of the mundane, I have similarly never really evinced any behavior that might be seen as brave.  I have never stood up to a bully, never eaten blowfish, never really shed the trappings of a tourist to live like “the locals” in some exotic land, and never done a whole bunch of other brave stuff.  Indeed, I have never even been on a camping trip since my last year at Camp Winaukee (in 1979, I believe).   While I deeply appreciate that some have characterized my blogging as an act of bravery, I suspect that my writing is more about neediness, about my profound fears concerning illness, age, dying, and about my fervent desire to be reassured that everything will be alright. 

I say all this not out of a sense of false modesty (no one has ever accused me of being modest either), but instead because I have seen real bravery up close.  This has been a tough year for some of my colleagues. One woman just lost her husband, while another coworker has battled cancer for well over a year now.  Both colleagues have done so with a tremendous amount of dignity and courage. They have done so quietly, without making a big deal around the office and, unlike me, without sharing their fears in a very public venue like the internet.  These are tough, brave people. My recently widowed colleague nursed her husband through an incredibly painful disease.  Over the last few months of her husband’s life she fought with doctors, hospitals, social workers, and her insurance company in an effort to fight his disease, then to ease his pain, and finally to insure that his passing would be dignified.  She did all of this while routinely showing up to work, which she says offered some respite from the unrelenting challenges she faced at home.  My friend with cancer has undergone one year-long round of chemo and never complained once.  Seriously, not once!  She missed one day of work, I think, because she was in the hospital with a fever from an infected port.  And now, as she undergoes a second round of chemo (a much more powerful cocktail), she continues to show up to work as if everything is normal despite the drugs’ obvious effects.  Just the other day I was exchanging texts with her and she told me she was quite nauseous.  I responded with some fairly pro forma words of support and then told her to take all the time she needs to return to work.  She responded by telling me that she plans on getting in as soon as possible.  Chemo is tough, she told me, but wallowing in self-pity made it even worse!  She is one tough, determined, and incredibly brave individual.  By contrast, I feel weak and whiny. 

I’m not trying to say that my friends’ assessments of my bravery are false.  For all I know, they may be right.  Maybe blogging is a brave act. Maybe being brave means not being afraid to ask for support in trying times.  Maybe each of us is brave in our own way and in our own time.  After all, what do I really know about bravery?  I suppose the point of this post is not to dismiss the wonderful things folks have said about me, but instead to acknowledge the courage and fortitude of some wonderful friends and colleagues who are going through tough times.  They have faced challenges that dwarf those I’ve encountered, and they’ve done so in this powerful and dignified manner.  I am continually in awe of their courage and bravery, and I pray for their comfort and recovery. 

As for me, I muddle through in a very different, very public way.  As I’ve said before, I live to scan another day, and that day is coming up in about a month.  I’m not scared of my approaching Petscan….yet, but when the fear does set in (which in some sense is inevitable) I will tell you about it here.  Because I’m brave that way…I guess.

As always, stay tuned.


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