01/16/2015 02:10 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2015

A Small Act of Courage

Blend Images - John Lund via Getty Images

The year 2015 has not begun quietly, as evidenced by the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market in France. This world we live in, as I am reminded by the headlines, is unstable. Living each day requires small and sometimes large acts of courage.

This past Sunday, according to the NY Times, more than 40 world leaders marched in Paris "in solidarity... against the threat of Islamic extremism since the Sept. 11 attacks." Among those 40 world leaders were an unlikely pair - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The two of them marching together, to me, is an act of courage. While world leaders headed that march, more than a million people joined in. More than a million people left whatever they were doing that Sunday to make a statement to the world, a statement, given the constant threat of terrorism, which stands, to me, as an act of courage.

Courage, either large or small, is difficult because of the weight of doubt and fear and discouragement that continually press against it. The great director, Francis Ford Coppola, is quoted as saying, "You have to be really courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise, you'll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost." The editors at Charlie Hebdo refused to knuckle under and a week after the attack produced a memorable edition, including a controversial cover, with millions of copies selling out in a mere hours.

Courage is a quality most often noticed in larger events but, as I thought about courage this week, as I thought about how people approach danger and risk, I began to think about the courage that is often found closer to home. As a therapist, I realized I see courage displayed on a regular basis. The courage I see does not show up on the front pages of newspapers but is still part of the fabric of courage that strengthens and supports the human spirit, so prominently displayed over the weekend in Paris. The courage I most often see is the abused person who is willing to risk forgiveness, the demeaned person who is willing to risk self-esteem, the addicted person who is willing to risk recovery. All of these are small acts of courage that produce a groundswell of memorable results.

Today, I saw a story that might be considered small in the larger issues of the day but nonetheless, caught my attention. Recently, in an interview on the Graham Norton show, Meryl Streep spoke about an incident that happened to her in the 1970s when she was just starting out her acting career. According to Streep, Dino DeLaurentiis Jr. saw her in a play and brought her to his father, the film director, Dino DeLaurentiis, Sr. to audition for the female lead in his remake of "King Kong." Upon seeing Streep, the elder said to the younger in Italian, "Why do you bring me this ugly thing?" Streep, who understood Italian, immediately apologized, in Italian, for not being pretty enough and left.

The host, Graham Norton, said this example was comforting and encouraged young actors to take solace in Streep's example. I agree young actors should take solace but so should everyone else. It took courage for Streep not to become crushed at such a young age. In defiance, Streep has remained courageous about her instincts and ideas. She did not knuckle under to such a devastating comment and so many memorable things from her amazing career have not been lost, to her or to us.

These are days that require both large and small acts of courage, or the memorable things that make up the fabric of our lives and human spirit might be lost. The events of this year have reminded me that life is uncertain so I don't want to squander a single one.