Sometimes Just Stepping Outside Is a Mark of Courage

Sometimes Just Stepping Outside Is a Mark of Courage

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On crowded streets, I often wonder who among us found it very hard to leave his or her home that day, yet did it anyway.

In other words, I wonder who is brave. Then I send silent greetings:

Hello, Mr. Anxious. You look smart and that's a lovely jacket but I see it in your walk: that haunted, hunted hesitance hindering every step as you chart your course through ten thousand triggers that everyone tells you don't exist. That shop whose clerk might have (you weren't sure) mimicked your accent. That street corner where you were harassed by someone who looked like your dad. The doctor's office where you went one day while panicking about a bump under your tongue. That bar from which your date bailed.

Friends say your fears are based on random long-ago encounters and are thus irrational. They say this fact should make you unafraid. But you and I know otherwise, don't we?

Hi, Little Space Cadet. Watching you glide along the sidewalk with your eyes a million miles away, I wonder why. Everyone chides you: Pay attention! as if your mind roamed deliberately like some bold sojourner on a quest, when really your mind has acquired this habit of escape, because too many times you couldn't bear to see/hear/feel whatever happened in too many awful moments in your life. You are the diametric opposite of mindful monks because you have learned, at the slightest flicker of distress, to disappear. Often this happens without your even realizing it.

Sometimes you wish your mind, body and soul could simply and constantly coexist—as seems to happen for these other people striding past, so confident within their skin and clean, well-chosen clothes. But disappearing is a reflex for you now. Which makes you brave to bear being in public yet so vulnerable with your tender, cracked consciousness floating high above your flesh like a helium balloon tethered to what others think is you by a flexible, fragile filament which anything or anyone might snip.

Hey there, Ms. Mourner. You are standing upright, which OMG I probably couldn't do if I were you. You smile faintly because this is the outside world and thus you must.

Those who see you don't know: The funeral is everywhere you go. Indoors and out, asleep, awake, you bring it everywhere for weeks, months, years—not by choice but because death overpowers everything. Does life—for all of us, including those not flailing in the wake of recent loss—not comprise more or less distracting ourselves incessantly from this dire fact?

We aren't supposed to sob in public, but your body disagrees. You purse your lips, Ms. Mourner, for that forced smile when they want to open like an earthquake fault and let you wail. Your hands swing at your sides in silent protest when they want to hug, have, hold. Living beyond such loss seems such an outrage, every smile a sin. Whoever stares now at your shuffling walk, your wet eyes assessing the absence of a certain silhouette on this and all horizons henceforth: Someday they will know.

Hi, Sick Guy. Hi, Combat Vet. Hi, Formerly Bullied Child. My mom was like you, telling herself she was statuesque while in her head a chorus catcalled: Whaley whale!

By exiting our houses, we put ourselves on display, allowing every passerby to rate, rank and assess us. No wonder this sometimes feels like striding through a fire. Not by name but by nature, I know some of you. I am some of you. Don't let anyone say we aren't brave.

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