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  • Jenny

The Definition of Courage

September 2015

I thought I was pretty courageous—well, others kept telling me that I was—when I decided to pack up my two kids and move our lives all the way across the country to begin a brand new life. We left our home of 7 years, our family, our friends, my 17-year job, and our support system behind to follow a dream. I kept being told how inspiring and brave I was, because I was doing this all on my own with no other adult help, and even driving cross country for 2 weeks traveling to boot. It was a complete mind-blow for some (many) people.

But not for me. See, I never doubted that I could do it. I didn’t waver in my faith that I could make it all happen. I wasn’t nervous in the least bit about the road trip, or the path that destiny was putting me on. I was apprehensive about the home we would be living in, since I only had a Facetime tour of it, but it ended up working out more beautifully than I could ever have imagined. I don’t consider what I did courageous, because I had no fear. I have been traveling on my own since studying abroad in Spain, so I am adept at adventure.

I have been a single mom for almost eight years, so having the kids come with me on the adventure was no big act of bravery either. It felt totally natural for me (us). I have always loved California and felt at home there, so although I was anxious about the actual residence, I knew that I would love my new surroundings. So other than missing the people I loved, I really (in my mind) wasn’t all that bold or outside of my own box. To others, it may have seemed that way, but to me, it was just another little adventure along my life path.

To me, courage is facing fears and combating challenges that have held you back your whole life. I did none of that (well, a little in the letting go of some things in my life to let me move forward, but not actually moving forward itself). I recently encountered courage at its finest, and that was my inspirational mind-blow. My definition of a courageous individual.

It was my mother.

My mom is not the adventurous type. She is terrified of crossing over bridges, going through tunnels and flying. She can’t even sit in a car in traffic, or her anxiety levels rise. I can remember childhood trips of her drinking Tab (yes, Tab) and popping orange tic-tacs as we went over the Verrazano, trying not to crawl out of her own skin. She is an amazing homebody, taking great pride in creating a beautiful, clean, bountiful home and space for her family and friends. Everyone always feels so warm and welcomed by her. It’s just who she is. But, she’s not one to venture out too often on her own—she can’t even sit through an entire movie, and when you are walking with her, you can forget about stopping and browsing, because she’s a mile up ahead of you, moving forward. And I treasure these qualities about her—these quirks make her my mom, and she is perfect just the way she is.

So, you can imagine my own mind-blow when this woman who gave birth to me, with all these travel fears, boarded a plane at JFK airport and flew across the country BY HERSELF to our new home. She arranged for her own car service to get her to the airport, navigated the gates, made it through a layover and plane change in Phoenix and arrived safely at her destination here. When I finally met up with her at baggage claim, I was stunned to see this calm, peaceful, smiling woman standing in front of me.

She was of course smiling because she was finally seeing her daughter after a long two months, but it was more than that. There was a sense of pride, a self-confidence, a peacefulness about her. She had not taken even one Xanax (her travel companion of choice), and she doesn’t drink, so she was completely just herself. She hadn’t even had a Tab or cigarette for over 12 hours. And amazingly, she wasn’t the slightest bit frazzled or anxious like she usually is after a trip. She was peaceful and calm, and I was floored—and thrilled. She faced one of her biggest fears, on her own, and it has changed her. Rather, it has brought back a piece of herself that she had thought she had lost forever: her independence and faith in herself.

But beyond that single lone flight across the US, my mom encountered more than one situation during our week together that could have brought her to her knees, or created additional anxiety. But she took everything like a champ, and amazed me even more. She suffered a truly heart-breaking loss, and I was so grateful to be able to be by her side as she experienced inexplicable emotions and pains of the past—but she did so with grace, awareness and love. She honored her feelings, yet refused to let them take over and ruin this special time with her child and grandchildren. She balanced it all so beautifully, and I was just in awe of her.

She also donned a bathing suit and went in our pool at the behest of my kiddos—something she had not done since she was a young woman. I tried to get her to go all the way to her shoulders—but she gave me that knowing mom look and smile as she gritted “don’t push your luck” through her teeth at me. Ha! Some things just won’t change, and that’s perfectly okay. But she did it!

The result of all of her bravery was a beautiful, eventful, yet peaceful week with us. She fell in love with a spot in our backyard with a glider and beautiful breeze, and enjoyed her daily time in “Nanny’s heaven,” as she coined it. We connected with family we hadn’t seen in decades, and it was wonderful. She got to explore the life we were living out here, and finally got it—although it’s not the lifestyle for her, she can see our draw to it, and how great a life I am building for us out here. All her worries about her 3 babies out here “alone” were put to rest, and she left California a brand new woman.

She has always been strong and brave to me. What she has endured in her life and survived leaves me in wonder. She definitely has her moments where she wants to throw in the towel, and recent years have been harder than most, but this woman has just proven to any doubters out there that she has what it takes to pull herself up by the bootstraps and fight back, and embrace what life throws her way.

So, do I think my little cross-country move is brave? Hell, no. That honor is reserved for my mom, and my wish for her is that she continue to remember the strength within her. Because when she allows herself to be fearless, she finds her inner peace. In fact, that’s what surrender does for all of us! And isn’t inner peace what we are all seeking anyway?

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