Sometimes, the smallest words take the most courage to say. Yes, I'm thinking of "yes" and "no" here.
Everyone has had their moments of courage, when they stood up for what they knew was right or when they bucked the tide. Sometimes being brave is just a matter of overcoming long-held positions; it can take guts to do or say something you know won't be popular. Sometimes it takes courage to say things when you fear the repercussions. Here's my list of the eight bravest things I ever said:
1) Yes I will marry you.
My husband and I were together for a long time before we married. We were monogamous, we loved each other, and we both were afraid to re-enter the marriage arena. What was interesting is that we shared our fear like a see-saw. Some days I would be the marriage-reluctant one; other days, it was him. One day, we struck the balance. That was the day we decided to adopt our first child from China and were told that the process was much easier if we were legally married. So we got married.
Marriage, especially if you've done that dance before, is frightening. There are times when the sound of your spouse's breathing drives you nuts. Then there are those other times when you can't imagine your life after you've heard that sound for the last time.
2) No, I won't do that because it doesn't feel right to me.
I have said this multiple times in my life and each time, the words form in my gut and must be pushed out my mouth. I always hesitate, I always question myself; it's always hard to say. But once the words come out, I always feel better. I have said it to boyfriends, to bosses, to friends who have asked me to cross a line. Knowing your boundaries and sticking to them requires massive amounts of courage. But "no" means "no."
3) I am your friend, but I am your mother first.
Teaching my kids how much they are loved and valued -- and that they don't always get what they want -- is hard. We want to please our children and we want them to be happy.
I always look for ways to say "yes" to my kids, but often the answer is "no." No, you may not play that computer game anymore. No, you may not sleep over when I don't know the parents. No, you can't watch TV when you have homework to do.
My children know they can come to me with anything on their mind and I will listen. But they also know that our family isn't a democracy where everyone has an equal vote.
4) Take this job and shove it.
Ask anyone who has quit a job without having another one and they will likely tell you that it was the best thing they ever did -- and then in the next breath, advise you against doing it. That's because it's scary to put yourself out on a limb on a principle.
When you are single, childless and responsible just for yourself, walking away from a job you hate may be a viable option. I did it when I was all of those things, although I did finagle a severance package and had enough saved to pay the mortgage for awhile. I also did it in a healthier economic climate than this one.
In my case, a series of soul-sucking bosses just beat the life out of me. I dreaded going to work everyday. I was also ready for a change of scenery. I wound up taking some time off and then getting a job -- a great job -- 3,000 miles away. Quitting wound up being the best thing I ever did. Had I had a family in tow, I'm not sure I could have been so brave. It's one thing to fail in the privacy of your own life; it's quite another to drag your family down the drain with you.
5) You are parked in a handicapped zone.
I mean this in the metaphoric sense but it is applicable in many different situations. It's about sticking up for the underdog and not letting injustices occur while you stand by idly. It's about calling 911 when you spot a drunk driver, stopping to help the dog that the other car hit, making sure your school has zero tolerance for cyberbullies.
For the record, I did actually approach a stranger who pulled into the handicapped spot without a placard giving him the right to park there. He told me to mind my own business. I told him that as a citizen of Planet Earth, this was my business. He flipped me the finger and walked away. I called mall security and waited for them to get there.
6) No more for me, thanks.
This is something I've said in several different contexts. I've said it to end a toxic relationship, to leave a job I hated, and I've said it about tomatoes. I have never liked tomatoes, which to some people means that while I've never liked a single tomato ever in my life, I should still taste this tomato that they are offering. Now I just tell the tomato-pushers that I'm allergic, which generally stops them and they leave me alone.
Knowing when you've had enough of something is a vital key to being happy. Complacency is a rut, not a root. I find that my heart often knows when to move on before my head does. Listening to our hearts is harder because we can always find logical reasons for our inertia.
7) I'll try it.
I don't try everything. I won't try sky-diving, for instance. I prefer sports where my life depends on my skill and talents -- not on equipment that could readily fail. I wrote a story decades ago about how most skydiving accidents occurred because the parachute didn't open properly -- and that the guys who packed them were minimum-wage workers with limited English proficiency who didn't understand the training and couldn't read the manual. I'm sure the government has gotten around to over-regulating them now, but the story still stuck with me.
But I will try pretty much everything else. Life is richer when you are open to experiences. Opening my taste buds to new food is something I've passed on to my kids. I love to travel. My tastes in reading and film are solidly fixed with mysteries and romantic comedies, but I will still try the occasional vampire film; I just close my eyes in the gory parts.
8) Hello, Stranger.
I've taught my children that new kids at school should be approached and welcomed, not treated like they are invisible. I am always the first one to jump out of her seat and walk over to the newest intern in the office. Being the new kid or the new intern are uncomfortable spots. The discomfort wears off eventually as acceptance comes, but I like knowing that by just smiling, I made someone's first day a little easier. We live in a sometimes cold, cruel world. No reason that we have to be though.
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