“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
When my daughter and I first moved to the beach, she would cling to me every time we stepped foot on the sand. At first, I would hold her, standing on the edge of the beach, backed up against the dunes as if they were urging us forward. We would watch the waves break against the shoreline and more often than not she would bury her head into my neck. Sometimes I would walk with her to the water’s edge, but often I wouldn’t, if fear was getting the best of her.
I bought her a little red bucket and shovel. She toted it along with her, holding my hand, staying on the border of the beach, avoiding the water.
The next time we visited, I showed her the shells that peppered the sand. She would point at them with delight – every one a drop in the bucket without discretion to size, shape, color, or beauty.
Eventually, I started showing her shells closer and closer to the water. She would walk to pick them up, not realizing the proximity to her fear.
One morning, we went on our normal walk, and the ocean was unbelievably calm. It sat smooth like glass in the basin of the ocean floor, like the world’s largest puddle. The tide was low and there were massive expanses of inch deep water barely covering the sand. We started the morning off with business as usual, looking for shells in the sand.
Today though, the ocean was too damn beautiful to ignore.
I let go of her hand. I walked down to the water, and began splashing around, like we do in the puddles that accumulate outside our house after a rainstorm. From the sand, she watched me, but I could see the draw of a carefree splash spreading through her.
She loves puddles. She even has a pair of pink rubber rain boots she wears for puddle splashing, similar to my own yellow ones. I urged her on, seeing the desire growing in her as she start-stopped her way to water’s edge looking at me and smiling as if playing a coy game.
She finally crossed the threshold between land and sea, immersing her feet. Looking up at me, she started laughing, her joy splitting open the moment. She threw her arms in the air and started splashing, soaking the dress she was wearing. She touched the glassy water, trying to move it from side to side. She sat in the water, while the 1 inch waves parted around her, making ripples.
We played, but soon she saw a little boy just a bit older up the beach where the water was less calm. He was laying in the water with his arms outstretched as if holding a push-up position while the waves crashed over him, his face laughing toward his mom on the shore.
My daughter started walking towards him, and toward the breaking point where the water ceases being a calm, safe puddle and the waves, while still small, began breaking.
In a single moment she found a courage that instantly bordered on dangerous, as she rushed the waves to mimic the boy.
It would have been easy to pull her from the water, to relegate her to the shore, or scold her for running toward the waves. “It’s too dangerous” was swarming my mama bear heart.
But I grew up scared. I was scared to take risks. Scared to do anything too dangerous. Even as an adult I’ve been treated multiple times for anxiety, overwhelmed by the possibility that anything could go wrong.
Instead of pulling her from the waves I stood next to her while she felt the powerful force of the waves against her legs and felt the salty spray on her face. I watched as she would bend her knees to brace against the coming waves, and squeal with joy having stood through one, gaining both confidence and caution. I gave her the space to figure out the danger, while being ready at a moment’s notice to step in.
I let her run toward the waves, staying right next to her. I held her hand while they crashed against her and smiled when she squealed with delight. In the lulls she would move further out, and as a big wave came, I would pick her up so she soared over the danger and reset her closer to the shore, where she would be able to handle the force of the wave without being knocked over.
Outwardly I was calm and praised her, but inside I was in full hawk mode, ready to grab her in less than half a second if she went down. In my mind, all the ways she could die buzzed in my head: she could choke on a lungful of water, or get knocked down and pulled under and dragged out by a rip current.
Life is full of danger.
In our own lives, its to easy to avoid the things that scare us. Often, I’ve been the girl up on the beach holding her bucket, avoiding her fears. We aren’t always blessed to have someone to push us towards discomfort. Often we need to step up on our own.
Maybe we need to move inch by inch toward our fears, or maybe we need to see someone doing it and surviving for us to rush headstrong into the waves. Bravery is much harder to develop than danger is to avoid. So at those little junctions in life, be brave. Some things are worth the discomfort of fear.