Mustering Courage

You’re shy, Vera. You often stand back, observing, thinking, uncertain when or how to engage. That’s O.K. That’s how you were created, and don’t let anyone tell you there is anything wrong with it. They will try. Some extroverts and those who charge in think their approach is the right one. But it’s not a matter of right and wrong. It’s a matter of individuality and differences. And accepting who you are. And being yourself.

This weekend you’ve been staying with us while your parents are out of town. We took you to Chick-fil-A® for lunch yesterday. I thought you would like it. Little did I know we’d end up spending nearly an hour and a half there.

It was packed of course. But we lucked out and got a table. We were surrounded by chaos. Lots of families and energetic kids. It was noisy. But you seemed O.K. You watched. Observed.

I thought you’d like their chicken nuggets, but it was the fruit in the kids’ meal that was devoured first. You checked out the game that came with your meal, but it was intended for older kids so it didn’t have much appeal.

It took a long time to eat because you were observing so much. And were distracted. It wasn’t only the kids and activity in the dining room. From our table you also could see the children’s play area behind the glass. You could see some kids climbing. And sliding down a tube sliding board.

You observed: Not with any apparent anxiety or fear; rather, with curiosity. I wondered what you were thinking.

When it came time to leave, I headed for the door. But you and your grandmother weren’t following. I soon learned that you were insisting that we check out the play area. So, naturally, being grandparents (i.e., persons who are loath to say no), we did.

It was a scary place. That was my assessment, not yours. You didn’t seem scared. It was loud — louder than the dining room. And more chaotic, made all the worse by four young boys who clearly had an over supply of energy.

To our right was a structure one was to climb up. From there kids could access the tube sliding board. You stood by the bottom of the entry point — where the kids were climbing up. To the side, of course. You watched.

And watched. And watched. You and your grandmother checked out a few other things, but you soon returned to your watch point where the kids were heading up to the sliding board.

You wanted to stay. Yet you simply couldn’t muster the courage to join the fray and climb up. Minutes passed by. Lots of them. I think we must have waited 20 minutes or more. But that was O.K. You wanted to be there. You wanted to wait. It was too good to leave.

Finally, the rambunctious boys left and the activity area had only a few other kids. I could see it in your eyes. This was your opportunity!

I suggested to you that it may not get any better than this. Didn’t you want to go up?

And then it happened. You started up to the top of the structure. But you soon encountered a problem: a young girl was blocking your way. You could have gone around, but you froze. There was movement. You progressed. You were in a tube section out of sight from us. But it wasn’t entirely opaque. I could see you once again encountered resistance: a kid who, for inexplicable reasons, had stopped. You retreated.

Your retreat didn’t last long though. You once again headed for the tube. You were out of sight for a while. We waited. And then you appeared. Down the slide. Grinning from ear to ear and laughing. “More?” you asked. “Sure,” I said.

You bolted to the entry point. Only this time was different. There was purpose to your stride. You seemed oblivious to the other kids. You even passed one. In no time, you were down the slide again, laughing harder than the time before.

You went again, with even more purpose. For the next while, you routinely bypassed other kids on your way to the slide. You weren’t observing. You were engaging. You weren’t anxious about the other kids. You were just one of the crowd, enjoying life to the fullest.

One of the reasons I wanted to take you to the restaurant is to help you get comfortable with strange situations. And to learn, in your own way and in your own time, that most of the fears and threats we feel aren’t real.

But I don’t want to push you. And I certainly don’t want to try to change you. I just want to help you release your inner courage — to nudge you gently when the rewards are probable. And not to miss out on a lot of the fun stuff in life.

I remember when I was in college, I dreaded the prospect of having to speak in class. Once a took a seminar with 12 other students. We had to speak. I hated it.

I also hated my speech class. Having to stand up in front of the class and give a speech was about the worst thing I could imagine.

Years later I gave many speeches to large crowds. And testified in the state legislature before Senate and House Committees. And gave TV interviews. Not only didn’t I mind it, I often enjoyed it.

But the path from college to standing in front of people wasn’t always an easy or pleasant one. I’m sure I didn’t always do a good job. And, in the early years, I would get really nervous. But I learned an important lesson along the way: fear comes from within. The outside world is not as threatening as it may seem.

It was fun watching you engage the outside world yesterday, albeit in a small, relatively insignificant way. On the way home, you fell asleep. Later, after we had returned home, you took me into the house in the basement that you and your grandmother had made out of chairs and blankets. Piggy and Bear live there. We visited them. You made us cake (your idea). And served me coffee.

It was a closed, protective environment. It was nothing like the restaurant. Our food and drink were imaginary. Tranquility prevailed. It was just you, me, Piggy and Bear.

Life is lived in both places, of course: in the public arena and in our private, protective enclaves. Chaos and tranquility. We need both. That’s the way we were made. That’s the way the world was made.

It takes courage to experience fully both places.

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