What does courage look like? Each spring, an award is given to a person who has made a significant contribution to the world. This past spring, a woman was nominated who had spent many years of her life hiding her personal identity, and who had, at last, transitioned to her gender.
One response became a symbol of national discord. A Facebook user posted a picture of two men in military uniforms, one carrying the other over his shoulder away from danger. Beneath the picture, he wrote:”just thought I would remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery look like.
What does courage look like? What is its image?
Does it look like physical bravery, rooted in service to country and friendship, in loyalty and the willingness to live one’s life in the context of a greater, often national, mission and purpose?
We are struggling to know how and when to hide or reveal our personal identities. We are confronting issues of race and racism that force us to ask questions about our history and ourselves that define us – and the generations to follow. We are facing issues of long-term security and peace that require our leaders – and us – to make decisions on some of the hardest questions we have had to ask in many years.
Does courage look like swift, strong response to the potential for conflict? Does it look like patience and restraint?
Does it look like confrontation, arising out of the experience of prejudice and pain? Does it look like resiliency, expressed with prayer and hope?
A recent op-ed in the New York Times suggested: “We find it easier..to admire physical bravery than moral courage…It’s hard for us to see our leaders as courageous ..Perhaps we have seen too much, grown too cynical about the compromises of power. There are no Gandhis, no Lincolns anymore. One man’s hero is another’s villain.”
How do we find courage in the depths of our own souls? Our lives are so fragile. We don’t know who will live or die. Who in their time; and who not in their time. On the Jewish High Holy Days we are asked to stand in complete humility before God.
The truth is, we can be courageous. We have supported families and children, we have take care of parents as they have aged; we have helped patients heal; we have represented those seeking justice; we have sought forgiveness from those we have hurt; we have responded to illness with grace.
We need to ask: can we be courageous?
Can we accept our failings and flaws -and those of others- and decide to love anyway? Can we be honest with our spouse or partner? Can we set a vision for our life’s work and pursue it? Can we ask for forgiveness, and forgive generously?
As we seek to live with courage in a time when its image is not always clear, may we be genuine, even as it means showing our fears and weaknesses to others. May we trust that we will be met with acceptance and loving care; and may we be resilient, loyal and true.
The Hebrew says “Chazak! Chazak! v’nitchazek, may we be strong, bold, and courageous.
This can be Day One. LET’S BEGIN!
Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe, a cancer survivor, is a motivational/inspirational speaker on the theme NEVER GIVE UP! He authored “Why Me? Why Anyone?” which chronicles his rescue from leukemia and his spiritual triumph over despair. Known as “The Running Rabbi” for competing in the NY Marathon, he received the “Award of Courage” from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony. Rabbi Jaffe was one of the clergy who visited the American hostages in Iran to offer them comfort and hope and was asked by the President to greet them at the White House upon their return. He received an honorary Doctorate from his seminary for “his work with the sick, and his noble influence upon all people. You can find more information on his website.
Image courtesy of Jakob Owens.