Courage — Where the ground rose to my shoe.
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
Written By: Megan Starkey
I bent down on one knee in the kitchen of that old, run-down group home I’d been court-ordered to by a judge just weeks before. A hazy yellow light from the kitchen lamp encircled my vision like a vignette as I focused on my shoe. I knew deep down that I’d be better off recovering in the company of my trusted friends and family than in this awful place, and so driven by a fierce determination to do right by myself, I was going to flee. A drum sounded off the battle in my chest. I yanked on the laces one last time. There was no going back. The screen door slammed shut behind me. I sprinted into the unfamiliar city until I found a bus and jumped on. I was 14.
I lay flat on my back in Savanna outside the hot yoga studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the cold, wet pavement, steam rising from my body. Fall, 2011. I had come to class that morning, as I’d done so many times before, to sweat out last night’s hangover. I peered up from the ground where I lay, exhausted. The sun shone between the leaves of the tree above me. They seemed to twinkle at me — signaling hope and gently beckoning me to it. As I sat there with only myself in this whole world, this tree looking back at me and holding my truth, I knew there was an opening here. I let down my guard. I could ask for help. I was ready to stop drinking.
I leaned over his crib in the dark. His father had blown up in a rage at dinner—again. I’d left the table to get him ready for bed, hiding the fact that my hands were trembling so badly with fear I had to sit on them to keep them still (to avoid provoking suspicion and, thus, more anger.) A shell of myself, I looked down at him, and what I saw startled me. He jerked his body. He was literally writhing in terror. I knew then I would need to leave my marriage if he were to have any chance at a happy life. I left the next morning with no money and no place to go. Just a boy on my hip, bag over my shoulder, and strength of courage in my heart.
Courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It isn’t even the will to act despite it. Courage is the intrinsic strength of the heart. The driving force that moves and sustains through right action. Courage encourages us to move toward what is authentic for us.
But what about fear? Isn’t fear a useful tool? When is courage just recklessness? Yes, fear is a tool and like any other, it should be wielded with discernment. When we can recognize that fear is working to afford us short-term security at the expense of living life fully in the long run, then we have a decision to make. Obey fear, or summon the courage that lies within.
Courage is something we already have, and cultivating it requires trust in the beginning — trust that needs to be earned. Otherwise, why would we risk so much if there were no good reasons to believe it will work out in the end? However falteringly, when we act on courage in even the smallest of circumstances, we develop the quality of courage and learn to trust it through gathering evidence that it’s reliable. We learn that the ground always rises up to meet us when we step forward first.
Whether it’s an immediately life-altering decision like leaving a relationship or an addiction or a momentary one like speaking up about a perceived injustice, opportunities to train courage are everywhere, and they all feel HUGE. Every courageous act is a victory. And with each one, we take a step forward in being able to summon and rely upon it ever more, until one day we wake up years in the future to a life that we hadn’t even dreamt was possible…but is truly ours to live.