What makes you brave?

The date was October 27, 2011. Four people walked down a narrow pathway between two rundown buildings. When they came out on the other side, they were in a different world.

Sounds like something out of a Harry Potter book, doesn’t it? But I can assure you that the place these four people were traveling to was not a magical one. It was a muddy and garbage-strewn slum not far from Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Of the four people there that day, three of them – a man and two of the women – were Ugandan. The other was a white, middle-aged, middle-class mom from Minnesota.

That would be me.

For those who aren’t regular readers of my column and don’t already know this story, the reason for our visit to this place, called Ki-Mombasa, was to meet and talk with a group of young girls who were trapped in a cycle of poverty and prostitution. They were selling themselves for the equivalent of 30 or 40 cents, because that was their only means of survival.

As we left Ki-Mombasa several hours later, it was with a determination to do something to help these girls build a better life for themselves and their children. Walking back along that same narrow path, my friend Tabitha – who was the “fearless leader” of our group – turned to me and said, “Betty, you are so brave, and I am so proud of you.”

I appreciated her words more than I can say, but the truth is that I didn’t feel brave. I felt called.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bravery lately, especially with the one-year anniversary of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and all the stories about the runners who were injured – some critically and permanently – and who were now back in Boston, bravely taking part in this year’s marathon.  Equally brave are the thousands of volunteers, as well as members of the medical and law enforcement communities, who were there to help the runners and to keep them safe.

I’m pretty sure none of them would say they were being brave in returning to Boston. They were simply doing what they felt called to do. They were focused, they were determined, and they were not going to let the memories or the terror of last year’s bombings keep them away from this year’s event.

I’m always fascinated when I hear or read stories of people – ordinary, everyday people – who come upon the scene of an accident or injury and put themselves in harm’s way in order to rescue someone in danger. Later, they usually shrug off what they did, shaking their heads at being called heroes.

“I just did what anyone would have done,” they say. And while that may or may not be the case, I know they are being honest, rather than modest, when they say that. They saw something that needed to be done, and they did it. They didn’t stop to think, plan, or weigh their options.

There’s something in each of us that makes us brave, although we may never know what it is until we’re called upon to use it. For some people, it’s when someone else is in danger, or when they see an injury or injustice. For others, it’s when a need – such as hunger or housing – is going unfulfilled.

It’s a sign of compassion and caring when we contribute time or money for causes such as these. But it’s bravery – even if we wouldn’t call it that ourselves – when we put our own lives in danger, or our own resources at risk, because there’s something bigger or more important at stake.

What makes us brave could be our family or friends, a cause we are committed to, or a value we hold. When it is challenged or endangered, that’s when bravery takes hold of us.

Many people reach an age or stage in life when they start searching for meaning and purpose. I know from personal experience – as well as from a number of the people I have worked with – that whatever we’re searching for is already within us. We just have to find it, recognize it, and trust it. Once we do, we are often amazed to realize all that we are capable of doing, and how far we are willing to go in order to accomplish it. We discover what makes us brave. And we enter a different world.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on April 24, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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