Daily Acts of Courage
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
—Mr. Keating, ‘Dead Poets Society’
“Courage is found in unlikely places.”
With Robin Williams’ recent death, I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society.” I love how this movie portrays the poet’s absolute free spirit to be whatever he or she feels passionately called to be. The movie highlights the vigilance required to resist that strong pull toward conformity—where everyone walks in step. It also demonstrates the importance of standing up for what you believe, even when you are the first or only one to do so. And lastly, it shows the need to continue on with our lives after the loss of people and things we hold dear to our hearts.
It takes courage to live out our lives. Yet, the courage to live fully and love deeply (again and again) is precisely what makes life worthwhile.
Poet Mary Oliver says we must do three things to be able to live in this world, “To love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let go.”
Loving, and then letting go, requires remarkable bravery. Sending my daughters off to college is exciting, but I also feel bouts of melancholy because it signals an end of an era. An even more jarring and intensely heart wrenching sense of loss occurs when our parents, friends, lovers, siblings, partners, and children die.
People who are doing their best to get up, go out, and face the world each morning—despite loss—are engaging in tremendous acts of courage. Courage is not the mighty sword that slays an enemy. Real courage is being honest and completely vulnerable. It’s the quiet voice that whispers, “I need help” or “I’m at a loss here.” It’s living an authentic life despite the clamor of those bent on destroying what is unique, creative, and beautiful. It’s embracing life in the moment. Happy moments. Sad moments. Angry moments. Fearful moments. It requires courage to say out loud, “Our marriage has had rocky times” or “I’m feeling lonely today.” It’s humbling to admit, “I don’t know why that happened.” Or acknowledging, “I don’t know what happens after I die,” or “I don’t know the answers for life’s deep mystical questions.”
Surrendering to all that we do not know in this lifetime allows us to remain open. We can then learn to trust the gentle unfolding of our lives. We can answer the call of our hearts. We can forgive mistakes, shortcomings, and human failings—our own as well as others. We can appreciate fleeting moments of joy. We can recognize kindness. We can sing, dance, laugh, cry, paint, play, tell stories, and recite poetry.
And finally, we can practice gratitude for the many small and large gifts that come our way.
With courage, we can say, ‘I am open to this moment. I will drink my cup of coffee, brush my teeth, and go out into the world—with all that awaits.’
“Seize the day.”
In joy and gratitude,
Diana J. Ensign, JD