“I wanted to slay a dragon, to walk the tallest tightrope, to face danger with unflappable confidence and competence. I wanted to do all of these things, but only managed to do one. I got up, and I tried.”
We met in the darkness, the glow of the moon the only light in the forest that night. We sat and talked for hours, and she told me that she was worried. “What is it, she asked me, to be brave? Would anyone find me brave?”
“I do.” I answered. “I think that you’re very brave.”
But you have to say that, she answered. “Because you wrote me. You have to admit.” She said. “That I don’t always do things with the most style or grace. I’m kind of clumsy and awkward, and I have anxiety. I wish you hadn’t given me anxiety.”
I laughed. “Sorry. But a lot of people have anxiety, including me. It’s something I can identify with. I can’t imagine a world without it.”
“I’m not a heroine.” She shook her head. “Not really, anyway. What have I done to deserve that title? Look at all of those other characters.” She listed off the names of other book characters, her face falling. “Winter, those are heroes. They’ve done amazing things. I can barely even get through the day sometimes. “I know…” She said. “That sometimes you look at me, and you wonder if I’m enough. For, the world, for this book. Everyone wants a hero, a powerful girl. But what if after all of this is said and done, you find out the truth? That I’m really not all that powerful? How will you feel about me then?”
That conversation with her played through my head many times the next day. To be honest, it bothered me. Not just the things she said about herself, but the things she said about bravery. When do you think you’re brave? When do you give yourself credit for being brave? And were she and I both falling short? It was true what she said, I have questioned her, many times. Sometimes I worry about the way she confronts certain obstacles. Does she cry too much? Is she bold enough in her actions? Will people dislike her and find her weak? I just don’t really know. Even though I wrote her, I still feel like I know so little about her. I guess that’s one of the fascinating parts about writing. We’re always learning and discovering new things about those characters we think we know so well.
When I think about the days I feel powerful and strong, sometimes I have to laugh a little. The things I did today, I don’t know that anyone would find them brave. But to me, they were. Some of those things, they nearly broke me. But at the end of the day, I think that agreeing on a definition of bravery is impossible. We all have our own ideas, and we measure success using different metrics.
The next time I speak to her, I’ll tell her that she is enough. She and I, we’re growing together. It’s been years now since I began this book, and she’s evolved, just like I have. I think we’ll both eventually get there, I really do. I don’t know that anyone will ever really find either one of us brave. And I’m not sure, how much that really even matters to me anymore. But what I do know for sure is that we’ll both continue to try to be our best selves. To push the limits on what we thought was possible. To do something that scares us, even if to the rest of the world it’s a nothing.
When I think about bravery, I think you become your most powerful self when you stretch yourself in ways that make you feel like you’re going to break. When you find that little extra room to grow, just when you thought you couldn’t take any more. When you stop and look around, and find yourself just the littlest bit farther than you were last time. Progress is progress, movement is movement and growth is growth. We can measure it in different increments on a ruler, but regardless, it’s still there. The little steps add up to the big ones, and I know that we’ll get to those far off goals eventually, even if it takes us years. No matter what, to me, that is bravery.