The Bravest, at 6 and 26

One morning, I asked kindergarteners about bravery. There was talk of Power Rangers and Megazords, but Spiderman (the red one, not the black) was the bravest person in a little boy’s world.

Like these six year olds, we need our heroes. When we grow a little older, our heroes become those who put themselves at risk for others, for a greater good or a grand message. We need women like Malala Yousafzai, Waris Dirie, and Patricia Evangelista. They are exemplary, and wonderful, and we ought to learn from them. At a life-tempered 26, however, I need my heroes to be a bit more personal. I’m not a particularly fearless person. I was braver at six, at sixteen, than I am now. I need to see, in real time, that bravery is something doable.

These are the stories of the two bravest people I know.

She stands, statuesque, beautiful at turns striking and subtle, and introduces herself, half in jest, as a medical school dropout. What she does not say is that before handing in her leave of absence forms, she had to take a Pharmacology exam for completion’s sake. What she does not say is that she scored a hundred out of a hundred in that exam.

She was stellar, the president of a medicine student council reformed, and she was nice, genuinely. Least only in a line-up of the usual suspects, she had no glaringly obvious reasons for an exit.

She felt stifled, constrained. Though her objective of helping others was unchanged, she felt, with a conviction that grew more imperturbable each day, that she was designed to help in a different way. And because she could find no fault in that, she quit. The resolution was painful, and the aftermath, unchartered. For a person who had all but cemented her great place in a great world, it was a beautiful opportunity for complete dependence on a greater God.

Several months after this leap of faith, she wrote me a letter:


Her day starts out like this: she turns to her side, and needs a bit of help to get up. She has a bad back —  once, she slipped on a sluggish pool of blood, her brother’s or her best friend’s, she had no way of knowing whose, and it’s been troubling her for a decade. There were days when she wanted, simply, to not have to get out of bed, but she does, because she can.

She stands up and heats water for tea. If the husband is not away on assignment, she makes piping hot coffee and the other auxiliary elements of breakfast. They share this meal, he leaves after a kiss.

For eight hours, she has the house to herself. On Tuesdays, she goes to the market, which doesn’t take more than an hour in a small town, for a household of two people and two dogs. On other mornings, she reads thick paperbacks, the kind she devoured when she was pregnant at 21. Speaking of which, she turns on her laptop, because maybe her erratic daughter, who has lived in distant dormitories for most of her life since age 12, will call. She is unable to give this child the material luxuries all mothers want for their children, but she can give her time, undivided and unconstrained.

While waiting, she puts on a DVD of aerobics. It helps with the diabetes and the hypertrophic heart, though not as much with the back. The smaller of the dogs yaps for a walk. A bit of rest, an insulin shot (she remembers her nursing days each time), and then dinner with the man of the house. They watch the news together, and the staccato is of a province two hours away, devastated by a landslide. ‘Let’s help,’ she says. They make plans for the weekend, talk of donations and distribution on the smallest of scales, and turn out for the night.

The bravest girl I know makes decisions that she has carefully considered and found to be best and right for her, even if these decisions are unconventional. She would choose a slow walk over a sprint, even though the few comforts of an offbeat path are wildflowers and a silence that would allow her to think.

The bravest woman I know is not brave every day. Most days, she’s seemingly ordinary. Life has taken away from her more loved ones at ages earlier than they ought to be taken away, and some violently at that. She has had more burdens than chances, but still, she tries to live as normally as possible. And when she can, she gives, even though she does not have much. Only every day, she loves, because she is still a mother and a wife.


The spectrum of bravery ranges from Marvel superheroes to mothers, and each kind of bravery is worth its salt.

So, let’s do it.

Let’s cultivate courage that is neither less nor easier for being quiet. Courage that pushes you to climb a hill after falling from a mountain. Courage that ends what no longer works, and courage that starts those that might.

Let’s try to be brave, at any age, because the world is wanting, and someone, somewhere, needs a hero within two degrees of separation.


Credits for the third photo (clockwise from top left)  :

1. Waris Dirie

  • Waris Dirie portrait by Karl Holzhauser/ Desert Flower Foundation

2. Malala Yousafzai

  • Veronica de Viguerie (Getty Images)

3. Personal photo

4. Patricia Evangelista


5. Personal photo


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