Fearfully Courageous

How do you define courage? Is it the absence of fear? Is it some super-human trait that only a few people have? Where does it come from, and how do you get it? All these questions and more filtered through my head this past week as I sent my oldest son off to Air Force Basic Training. It was yet another difficult event in a year that has easily been one of the most difficult of my life. I needed courage to watch him walk through that airport security checkpoint and know I wouldn’t see him in person again for at least six months. He needed courage to leave his family and get on that plane.

According to, courage is “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear.” By this definition, courage is the absence of fear. I certainly know a few people who seem to be fearless. They are outgoing and willing to try anything. The bigger the risk, the more excited they are to try it.

Sometimes I wish I could be that type of person, the type who is fearless. My personality, and my oldest son’s, tends to be a bit more on the worrier spectrum. We tend to struggle with change and to like things planned out with clear expectations. “Go with the flow” does not come easy to us, and risks are something to be considered carefully and weighed against the possible benefits. The day I carried my son to the airport, I was nowhere near fearless. In fact, I was full of fear. Everything was changing again. One more room in my house would be empty. I felt like every “what if” question in the world ran through my mind. By the definition above, I had no courage. Perhaps courage really was a trait that only certain people could have.

The idea that not everyone could have courage, and that I apparently had none, did not sit well, so I kept searching. defined courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” At first glance, this definition seems very similar to the first one, but there is one key difference. Rather than being without fear, it focuses on withstanding fear. By this definition, I had all the courage in the world. I had fears, but I did what needed to be done despite those fears. My son got on that plane despite any fears he might have had. He had courage too.

In the end, I don’t believe it takes a special kind of personality in order to have courage. I believe it is a choice. Taking a risk when you have no fear is easy. Courage is much harder. It is choosing to take the risk, to face the changes, to endure loss, or to do what is necessary not without fear, but rather in spite of it. Do you agree? Feel free to share your thoughts on courage below.

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