[From The Space Between Words by Michèle Phoenix, available on Amazon]
Courage used to be more narrowly defined.
The young men who enlisted, without thought for their mortality, to fight in global wars.
The leaders, scribes and patriots who dared to disassemble prejudiced traditions to broaden the reach of justice and liberty.
The humble activists whose voices and conviction swayed unwilling cultures toward freedom and equality.
We derive vicarious strength from such heroism—a nostalgic and enduring notion still lived out on several fronts in modern-day society.
And we saw it again this week—that trait of fearless, selfless strength—as we fought back tears and anger and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Courage in the Sutherland Springs officers who rushed to First Baptist the moment they got the call. Courage in the civilian in a truck who chased the suspect down. Courage in the shell-shocked EMTs who combed through the gruesome scene for signs of life among their friends and family and found so few to save.
We salute their bravery even as we feel our own anxiety deepen.
Because for every neighbor who rushes, gun high and firing, toward the carnage in a Southern church, there are dozens, thousands, millions more who consider a world they cannot recognize—a future that feels unshielded and unsafe—and are tempted to conclude that there is nothing they can do.
The hate feels so much bigger than individual acts of love.
The violence so much crueler than single acts of kindness.
The magnitude of unseen threats too pervasive to be warded off with earnest calls for peace.
Without even realizing its impact over us, we begin to let our fear of indiscriminate and unpredictable horror seep into our resilience and smother hope with dread.
We feel it in our souls. In our outlook on the future. Even in the choices we make for this holiday’s travel. There’s a part of us that fully expects that the violence will reach us next. Or worse—someone we love.
Yet in this era of Isis threats and mass attacks, I see a different kind of courage beginning to emerge—the unassuming bravery of the shaken common man.
It is born of necessity, of a primal instinct to survive and stand uncowed. It’s a different kind of valor. More subtle, calm defiance—a daily, resolute insurgency against the paralyzing fear our assailants seek to spread.
It’s called Defiant Courage, and in small ways it thwarts our enemies’ most nefarious intents. It gets up every morning determined to live well. It sends children off to schools expecting a good day. It engages with the world, while fully aware that safety isn’t guaranteed. It celebrates beauty, cultivates peace and sublimates dread into daring.
Defiant Courage is active in communities, speaks kindness to strangers and inclusiveness to foreigners. It acknowledges fear and grief, yet chooses to stand tall and step forward and reach out and love and nurture and participate and plan and breathe.
Perhaps most importantly, Defiant Courage believes that the darkness will not win—no matter how powerful or inescapable it may feel.
It believes, despite the creep of understandable uncertainty, that God has not gone quiet, been surprised or overcome. It believes that no amount of horror carried out by depraved men is greater than his power to steal the outcome from their grip.
Defiant Courage rests with confidence in the power of God to layer light and beauty and hope over the darkness of men’s most ghastly deeds. It trusts that he will find a way to pour goodness over devastation, to spread comfort over pain and to extract small flecks of beauty from the debris left in terror’s wake.
Defiant Courage pairs resilience with faith.
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
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