loss

you’re braver than you think

My speech for The Christi Center’s 31st Annual Remembrance Event hosted at St. Edwards University on December 9, 2018.

Last weekend I watched people wearing parachutes jump off cliffs over the Pacific Ocean. Paragliders. My friends and I watched people let the wind carry them over the ocean, totally mesmerized. They were so brave.

The paragliders prepared for flight on a small lawn at the edge of the cliff. They stepped into what looked like tight sleeping bags with a hundred strings attached to a big rectangular parachute. Visitors fidgeted while they waited for staff to call them for a tandem ride. When it was finally their turn, they nervously walked up tothe paraglider who would take them on what was probably their first flight.


Me at the Gliderport in CA. I’m SO unsure about this whole paragliding thing…

The old-hands were obvious. These guys must have flown a hundred times before. They hopped down to the edge all on their own, chutes full of air. Their parachutes lifted them off the ground a little with each small jump closer to the edge.

I felt anxious just watching them. Aren’t they terrified?

My friend must have been thinking the same thing because she turned to me and asked, “What if it doesn’t work?”

When the paragliders finally reached the edge, maybe 150 feet above the water, the wind lifted them up and they flew into the sunset. Literally.

Their parachutes danced across the sky as they rode the invisible waves down the coast while the surf crashed into cliffs beneath them. Tourists like me soaked in the epic eye candy and took too many selfies.

The photos came out beautifully, but none of them captured how peaceful it felt. Peace like that is nothing short of a miracle to me, especially after grief.

This is how the paragliders push past the fear and jump anyway. The peace they feel flying into the sunset is more powerful than the fear they feel before they jump. And every time they fly, it gets a little less scary and they get to the peaceful part a little quicker.

A tandem flight in the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Does this look scary or peaceful to you?

A tandem flight in the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Does this look scary or peaceful to you?

Paragliders are brave without a doubt. It’s relatively easy to notice courage in other people. But it’s so much harder to notice when we’re the ones being brave. Did you know that you’re being brave right now? Just by showing up here today? Did you know that it takes courage to remember the people that we’ve lost?

You might be thinking to yourself, I don’t feel brave. But I think it’s hard for us to notice when we’re being brave because we forget what courage feels like. We forget that we don’t FEEL brave when we’re BEING brave. Courage doesn’t feel like bravery. It feels like fear.

Courage is uncomfortable. It’s scary. Courage requires vulnerability that can be downright terrifying. At first at least. I can tell that paragliders are brave, but I’m not an expert on courage. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an expert on courage until I came across Brene Brown. Brene is a Research Professor who spent the last 15 years studying courage and vulnerability.

In her book Braving the Wilderness, she defines courage and barriers to it. She says:

“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”

So we can only be as brave as we can be vulnerable. If vulnerability is the scientific measure of courage, it makes sense that being vulnerable would be difficult. Brene nails it when she points out what it takes to be vulnerable. She asks two questions.

One:

“Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?

And two:

“Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”

The people who show up to The Christi Center, you all, are willing to do both.

At the Remembrance Event between Pat & Elaine, two brave women who showed up to remember their husbands.
At the Remembrance Event between Pat & Elaine, two brave women who showed up to remember their husbands.

Our fear of vulnerability is our barrier to bravery, our barrier to cultivating courage. We all got over our barriers today. We’re here doing it together. It’s scientifically proven that everyone here is brave because you chose to show up. No matter what happened in your life, no matter what you’ve lost, or who you’ve lost, you choose how you respond to fear. You showed up. I showed up. We chose bravery.

Courage isn’t something we’re born with or born without. It’s a skill we choose to develop. Making the conscious decision to allow ourselves to be vulnerable is the way to become braver and live a more courageous life. That doesn’t make it easy though. Brene Brown says:

“Our experiences of trauma have taught us that vulnerability is actually dangerous… We struggle to find a place emotionally and physically safe enough to be vulnerable.”

As our trauma teaches us that vulnerability is unsafe, we learn to be courageous by showing up to community events like this one and attending grief group at The Christi Center. We cultivate courage every time we feel afraid and decide to do something anyway.

Expert paragliders choose to be courageous every time they jump. They choose to face the fear, take the risk, and jump into a peaceful sunset. They choose the courage that leads them to peace, again and again, every time they take flight.

Our grief journeys are ripe with opportunity to cultivate courage. It takes courage in every step. There’s no final destination when we can say I’m done with that. No marker of time tells us that we’re finished.

Two months after my partner Mark passed, I moved out of the home we shared. Three months after Mark passed, I started a trip around the world with nothing but a carry-on and no return flight. On Mark’s birthday seven months after his death, I spread his ashes in the greenbelt. I was afraid of picking the wrong place or losing him even more somehow, but I did it anyway. Then I wrote a story about it. A year after he died, I shared the story.

Now I notice it more when I’m being courageous because I know what it feels like. I know it feels like fear at first.

Two months ago I spoke in a room full of 300 people about the courage it takes to show up to The Christi Center for the first time, courage that all of you know very well. If you’ve been going to The Christi Center a while now, you might know the courage it takes to show up SO well that it might not even feel like courage anymore.

I’m not saying that you’d find peace if you just got over your fear of public speaking or your fear of heights. I’m encouraging you to notice your moments of fear and notice your moments of courage. I invite you to be vulnerable. I invite you to remember your loved ones and the joy that you shared.

Fear can be the barrier to bravery or it can be the path.

Fear can be the barrier to bravery, or it can be the path.

I invite you to push past the fear and choose courage for the peace and bliss waiting for you on the other side. In Mark’s words, “May we never be disconnected from the great joy beyond sorrow.”

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