I have never felt I was a particularly courageous person. Even as a young child, I tended to be aware of all the risks involved in any undertaking. Climbing rocks? What if I slipped and fell and broke a leg? Or worse, my neck? Swimming in the sea? Those waves looked really big and scary, what if I drowned? I fear that my countless fears have kept me from many wonderful experiences. I have often felt (or been made to feel) like a coward.
I was also a hugely sensitive child. I cried easily (and still do, which I hate), feeling the pain and suffering of animals and people around me. Whether in a movie or in real life, I tended to get overwhelmed by their misery, drowned in their sorrow. Or so it seems when I look back at my childhood, and beyond. I have also come to believe that I unconsciously absorbed the emotions of others, which accounts for some of my inexplicable mood changes and the fear that I could not really rely on my own judgement.
I never learned to shield myself and boy, the sorrows of the world are way too big to carry for a young child. Or anyone else, for that matter.
Curiously, I was also totally fearless in the face of injustice. As a teenager, I faced down the doctor parents of a girlfriend who suffered from the advanced stages of anorexia and yelled at them that they should stop seeing only what they wanted to see because their daughter needed help. I told off bullies who harried my friends (quite naturally, I tended to befriend the bullied).
Aged 11, writing my first essay for school, I asserted that the civilisation of the American Indians (which fascinated me) may well have been more civilised in many ways than our so-called Western civilisation. My essay was assessed by the head of my school and I remember being totally pissed off that he had not recognised how completely and incontrovertibly true that statement was (and for not giving me a higher grade). Such unfairness! Can you tell I was also a tiny bit precocious?
I was a little slip of a girl with a big mouth. And way too big fears. An unhappy combination, I often think. Particularly if you do not get the spiritual guidance such children require.
Today I look at my children and wonder how I can help them love this big, bad world and its teeming mass of defenceless creatures while refusing to get so caught up in its suffering that it incapacitates them. The two eldest are just like me, particularly my daughter. The youngest, I think, is more self-contained.
I am 42 years old and only now learning how to keep the world’s suffering at bay, how not to be overwhelmed by it. It would have been easy to become a cynic, to withdraw into myself and give up on the world. I understand how this happens. I was sorely tempted. But it would have made me even more miserable to cut myself off from the world when it needs all the help it can get, as do I.
I know it sounds crazy, but it is true: I am learning to encounter the negativity with love. When I talk to someone who is suffering or needs help in whatever way, I offer what I can from my own experience, however humble that wisdom may be. And I give them all the warmth and love I have in me, and some that is offered through me.
While I am unsure that it eases their pain or helps them solve their problem, it is sometimes all that I have to offer. An added benefit is that it helps me be stronger and keeps me from being overwhelmed.
Perhaps this is my particular kind of courage. To get up and struggle on against the odds, to persist in seeing light even in the darkest hours of my life (there have been a few), to speak up for what I believe even if it makes me an annoying firebrand. And to love beyond reason.
Thank you, Oscar.