Fearful Courage

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.”—Emma Donoghue

Ten years ago this month, R and I visited a friend in Lubumbashi, which is the second-largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lubumbashi is also the mining capital of the country, and has its own small airport. I was excited to visit because they had Western food items in their markets such as Nutella and chocolate that we could bring back with us to Zimbabwe.

One morning when our friend was at work, R and I went for a walk to visit the national museum. Along the way, we were stopped by soldiers who said that we had broken the law by stepping on their grass. They grabbed R and escorted her into their compound. Having heard some horrific stories about the treatment of women by Congolese soldiers, I was immediately concerned for R’s safety. I managed to block the gate door from closing by sticking my foot into a small gap and then squeezed the rest of my body into the doorway.

The soldiers appeared drunk and carried rifles, so I did my best to be as assertive as possible without coming across aggressively. I told the soldiers that R needed to stay with me and asked them to release her. Since R’s French was much better than mine, she also told them repeatedly that we could not be separated. I’ve never been more scared in my life or as quick to pray to God for help.

I’m not sure whether the soldiers were just playing games with us or they simply changed their minds about taking R, but eventually they let us leave the compound together without further incident. Hours later, my heart was still pounding feverishly. Even a decade later, the memory remains vivid and intense.

It’s possible to be fearful and brave simultaneously; they’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, far too many people in the world must embody some form of fearful courage every day in order to survive their personal circumstances and environment.

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Speak Easy

I just spent 20 minutes lying in bed with my son, K, as he tried to tell me everything he knows about birds. This is one of his recent obsessions, so he’s invested significant time into researching various types of birds and learning what differentiates them from each other. If I hadn’t wanted him to go to sleep, I could have stayed in his room and he would have kept talking for at least another hour.

Seven years ago, K could only say a few words. With his significant speech delay, we weren’t sure whether K would ever be able to communicate verbally with ease and complexity. After he was assessed by a speech pathologist, we started taking him to speech and language classes on a weekly basis. We also attended classes for parents to learn how to help him develop his expressive language skills. I’m not sure if it was because of these interventions or just the right amount of watching kids’ shows on Netflix, but K eventually started to connect more words together and gained the confidence he needed to speak clearly and appropriately.

These days, K has lots to say, especially if the subject matter is appealing to him. So if he wants to engage in an hour-long discussion about birds of prey, I will gladly participate, just as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with his bedtime. He’s a bit of a hawk when he doesn’t get enough sleep.

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Slow Breaths

When I was travelling two weeks ago I installed a meditation app on my phone to help me relax on airplanes and in hotels. Today as I was using the app, the narrator told me to focus on how my body felt as I slowly breathed in through my nose and exhaled out through my mouth. As I took a few slow breaths, I realized at that moment how tired and sore my body felt. If I hadn’t taken a break for these few minutes of stillness and inward reflection, it’s likely that I would have spent the whole day without noticing my fatigue or the soreness in my back and shoulders.

It’s important to take time to listen to my body and care for it properly, especially now that I’m in my 40s and seem to be quite skilled at tripping and falling. It’s also critical that I find daily opportunities for quiet reflection so that I can listen to my mind and heart without the distractions that come from everyday life. It’s so easy to neglect my physical, emotional and spiritual needs by focusing on other things, whether it’s essential activities such as work or diversions such as TV or the radio.

Slow breaths.

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Ramadan

With Ramadan starting tomorrow, I’m remembering the many ways in which my Muslim friends have demonstrated the importance of charity and generosity.

Before we bought our house, R and I (and also K) lived for a few years in an apartment in Thorncliffe Park, which is a heavily populated and multicultural community in Toronto. The majority of our neighbours had recently arrived in Canada from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Given that the building’s residents were predominantly Muslim, Ramadan took on a particular significance for us each year while we lived there.

One of my favourite things about Ramadan was the importance of sharing with others. During our first year, we heard a knock at our door one evening and opened it to find a girl standing there with a plate of food. She handed it to us and then ran on back to her apartment. We later learned that sharing food like this was a common custom, and that we could repay the kindness by sharing some of our food (or even treats) when we returned their plate to them. After researching how to prepare food and desserts that would be halal, we started to share food from time to time with many of our neighbours. This then led to some deeper friendships and invitations to meals in their homes.

With all the misconceptions that often circulate about the Islamic faith, I’m grateful that I could witness firsthand the kindness and generosity of my Muslim neighbours. For all who may be celebrating Ramadan, I hope this is a wonderful opportunity for inner reflection and acts of charity.

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Let Go

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.”—William Blake

Yesterday I rolled down a hill and broke the scaphoid bone in my wrist. I’m now in a cast with limited use of my dominant hand, so today I had to accept the following:

  • Everything I sign at work looks like it was endorsed by someone in kindergarten
  • I need to learn how to use my mouse with my left hand
  • I can only type slowly with two fingers, which is not ideal for a communications director
  • It takes a very long time to get dressed in the morning
  • There’s a good chance I will cut an artery in my neck while shaving with my left hand
  • I will likely miss my next 3-4 races this year
  • I have no idea how I will cook our family meals (or how we will eat for the next number of weeks)
  • I’m in big trouble when R goes to Uganda in two weeks
  • We have to cancel our annual family trip to the cabin in Haliburton this weekend
  • I can’t write or draw with pens or pencils

The kids are quite disappointed about this weekend’s cancelled trip, and I’m feeling sad about missing my upcoming races, but there is nothing I can do at this point to change the fact that I have a broken wrist. Although I find great joy in family vacations, cooking and trail running, I can’t hold on to these things too tightly or I will end up depressed and/or bitter when they fly out of my hands. Joy comes in many forms, but I can’t keep it leashed or contained. I need to let go and surrender what I can’t control.

On a positive note, now I have a great excuse for not wearing a tie to work, and B was super excited to show my cast to his friends at school.

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Fragility 

I’m typing this with my left thumb while sitting in the emergency department of my local hospital. I tripped on a tree root this afternoon while running down a hill and managed to fracture my wrist. I made it 44 years without breaking any bones, so it was a good run while it lasted (ooh, that cliche is so perfect).

It’s amazing how fast one can go from feeling strong and healthy to fragile and broken. I’m grateful to live in a country where I can access medical attention so quickly and efficiently.

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Tears of Joy

Today I ran with R as she completed her first full marathon. It was rainy and cold at the beginning, but she kept to a steady pace and ran strong from beginning to end. There were a few rough patches in the middle, but she remained focused on meeting the challenge before her throughout the race. I did my best to keep her motivated and moving and it was a precious gift to share in this experience.

I was excited to see how happy she became in the final few kilometres of the race as she got closer to completing her goal. We crossed the finish line together holding hands and then separated briefly as we received our finishing medals from the volunteers. When I looked over at her again I saw that she was crying and then she hugged me tightly. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Nothing. I’m just so happy that I actually did it after training so hard for this race.”

In addition to filling me with immense pride for R, today’s race has also left me wondering whether there is a goal in my life audacious enough that accomplishing it would elicit tears of joy. Perhaps I need some bigger dreams.

 

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