I was twelve when I first started reading Harry Potter and was transported into a world of dragons, invisibility cloaks and flying broomsticks, and where courage was undoubtedly the most admirable of qualities. As someone who barely possesses the courage to confront someone who pushes in front of them in line, the courage exhibited by the heroes like Harry seemed unattainable. I didn’t find a magical wardrobe when I was eight, I didn’t receive a letter to Hogwarts when I was 11, and although I’m not going to completely rule it out, I probably won’t get a visit from a grey bearded wizard when I’m fifty. There seem to be very few opportunities for an ordinary person, living in a very ordinary world, to demonstrate the extraordinary feats of courage that I loved to read about in my favourite books. But to borrow a line from one of my favourite movies, I have a sneaky feeling that if you look for it, you’ll find that courage, actually, is all around.
A few weeks ago I sat at a table full of strangers, all of whom possessed courage, perseverance and audacious hope, and yet whose stories often go untold. These strangers shared with me tales of a quieter, every day sort of courage, the type that holds families and communities together. I witnessed stories of courage that isn’t like a suit of armour, brought out once in a generation, shining and dazzling and strong, and then tucked away again quickly lest it become brittle and shatter. Their courage was like a simpler, unremarkable garment that is taken out and worn every day. Over time it becomes thin, and worn and stretched, but never, ever breaks.
I sat next to one woman with kind hands and smile lines around her eyes. She told me of the time when she was pregnant with her third child, experiencing severe morning sickness. Her husband was an alcoholic and she felt completely overwhelmed, alone and fearful, yet persisted with the pregnancy. She has subsequently watched her children deal with the hard of life, experiencing abortion, domestic violence, single parenthood and chronic illness. Yet her words are full of hope and joy, not bitterness and regret, an adored mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Her living room is overflowing with baby clothes that she lovingly washes and repairs to give to young expectant mothers experiencing crisis pregnancies, hoping to inspire in them the courage that she needed many, many years ago.
On my other side sat a young mum with two children under two. She has moved state and house twice since having her first child and was showing me photos of toddlers covered in milo and sudocream. Suffering from prolonged sleep deprivation, she picks up two knives and tries to eat her mean, and when she realises what she has done, laughs at herself, and invites everyone to join in with her. Despite the chaos of the past couple of years, she acknowledges how blessed she is, to have grown up in a safe and loving family, and to have a supportive and dedicated husband. She has decided to step outside of her comfort zone and mentor young mums who come from very different backgrounds to the one she grew up in.
Across the table were a couple who have moved to Tasmania from the other side of the world. We spoke about their teenage children and how they are adjusting to moving to a new country and culture. They spoke of the pain and sacrifices their children have had to make, and how they have had to demonstrate a greater deal of courage and resilience than their parents had to at their age.
We also shared a table with two young musicians, just starting out, playing at pub gigs, writing songs, and perfecting their craft. They are filled with optimism and excitement, but also must experience some trepidation jumping into the brutal and highly competitive music industry.
All around the table, I heard stories of courage. Of a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, loving her family through all the trials of life; of a new mum just starting out on her journey, learning to make peace with mess and the unexpected; of parents grappling with issues of their children learning to be courageous in this crazy world, and of artists daring to dream and pursue that dream.
None of these stories are likely to have songs or books written about them. They are not stories of courage like we read in epic tales of fighting dragons or fighting an evil force bent on world domination. Their courage is quieter and less dramatic, but it is also so much more real. It is a courage that has to be unwrapped and put on day after day, even when there is often no end to the battle in sight. It is the courage to get up when you would rather stay in bed, the courage to persist when you want to give up and the courage try again tomorrow when the day has been long and hard and heart breaking.
When life gets busy, I like nothing better to escape into fantasy, and read stories of courageous heroes embarking on breath-taking adventures and overcoming impossible odds. But perhaps if I spent more time at the table, listening to the stories of people who are in the here and now, I may discover stories of courage that are even more profound and remarkable. And I may even discover some of that every day courage myself.