The root word of courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of it’s earliest forms, the word courage has a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant
“To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”
–Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
It seems that lately, the notions of bravery and courage are all around me, all around us, really. Sara Bareilles, in her song, “Brave” implores us to “let the words fall out“; Katy Perry sings in “Roar” how she ‘went from zero, to my own hero” and Brene Brown writes in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”
“Courage is a huge theme in my life. It seems that either I’m praying for some, feeling grateful for having found a little bit, appreciating it in other people, or studying it. I don’t think that makes me unique. Everyone wants to be brave.”
Last weekend, I knew I had to get away, get some space, get out of my routine and environment. Shake things up a bit. I sought out a location within driving distance but one that doesn’t hold too many associations or memories. One that would set the stage for exploration and the distractions that come with needing to pay attention on how to get there and where things are and what to do. One that would invite engagement with new people. One that would make my camera as happy as my soul. I drove nearly four hours to the rugged coastline in Northern California, a place I hadn’t seen in thirty years. (I am still not entirely certain how it is that I am old enough to have a nearly adult memory that is from thirty years ago? )
The time away was everything I needed it to be and as things often go, so much more. In the midst of my explorations, I discovered the opportunity to go horseback riding on the beach. Without hesitating, I signed myself up for the adventure and didn’t give it much more thought.
Until I was sitting up on top of that beautiful animal, that thousand pound beautiful animal. And I recalled that the last time I was on a horse was in 1991, in the high Sierra’s on a very narrow rocky trail at 10,000 feet elevation. My mind immediately recalled the white knuckle feeling of that day, certain that horse was going to fall off the side of the mountain, with me attached to the saddle. Exhale. I am here to tell the tale!
My inner anxiety showed up and dammit if I wasn’t nervous about whether or not I could manage this horse. Immediately, I began the self talk: “Bon, these horses carry new riders every day”; “Bon, their insurance policy would be astronomical if these horses were dangerous“; “Bon, just be in charge of the horse, it needs to know you aren’t nervous“, “Bon, it’s only a few hours, for crying out loud, you’ll be fine“, and on and on.
I am saddled up on my horse, who by the way is a beautiful mare named Cloud. I am loving this, of course, because, wait for it, Bonnie & Cloud? Get it? Bonnie and Clyde? Close enough. I figure, it’s meant to be. Our trail guide begins giving some instructions to the small group of us, a family of four and me, as to who would go first and so on. I am instructed that Cloud likes to ride last, because, well, she likes her space. I realize in that moment, that Bonnie & Cloud are going to get along just fine. I planned this weekend’s get away because I really needed some space, and I get matched up with Cloud, who needs her space? Check. Then the barn owner says, ‘Cloud knows her job very well, she’s completely reliable and could do this with her eyes closed” Again, I am totally getting Cloud and I am pretty certain Cloud gets me. Who needs online dating; just sign up to go horseback riding.
The ride is gorgeous; we follow a meandering wooded trail, fresh from the deluge of the prior day’s storm. It’s not long before the view opens up and all we see in front of us is beach, ocean, waves and the gorgeous blue sky.
We make our way down onto the beach and follow along for awhile. My nerves are melting away, replaced with a smile on my face, really kind of a silly grin, that because we are of course, way in the back, no one can see. We have our space.
I am free.
Once out on the sand, we move along at a comfortable pace. We stop, take photos, enjoy the view. Along with people walking along the beach, reading books and walking their dogs. Tiny dogs, tiny barking dogs, tiny barking dogs yanking at their leash who spook a horse over a thousand pounds, who’s rider is an 11 yr old girl. Victory, the horse, can’t take the barking and rears and kicks and the young rider can’t hold on- she’s up and over and in the air and then on the sand before we realize what’s happened. I am behind her parents and they remain calm as she gets up, brushes off the sand, looks to her mom for reassurance and then gets.back.up.on.that.horse. Just like that. And we resume our ride.
I am impressed.
I am thinking about my 10 yr old kiddo. Would he have gotten back on? Would I have gotten back on? I know many adults who wouldn’t have. I tell her mom, riding just in front of me, as much. I am of course thinking about this as we ride, thinking of how this experience will be part of that girl’s life forever, grateful on her behalf that this is now part of her, something she can can lean on in other moments that scare the shit out of her. That she saw what she’s made of, even if she doesn’t realize it yet.
I make a mental note to be sure to tell her how impressed I am.
As we make our way back, we are on a pathway shared with walkers and cyclists. As a couple ride by on their bikes, Cloud becomes skittish and abruptly turns towards the surf; I can feel all of her energy underneath my saddle, and I think to myself, “oh shit, here we go…” I think about the 11yr old and something in me just calmed, and took the reins and pulled back gently. I think I probably said something to Cloud (and I am certain she understood me!). And thankfully, she opted out of her wild idea to go galloping down the beach. A woman always reserves the right to change her mind.
All the while, in my delightfully solo spot in the back of our little group, I am pondering a difficult conversation I know I need to have, and my trepidation about having it. Thinking about being brave. Frustrated that I have to ponder it so much first. Thinking about telling about my heart. Wondering if I should. Thinking about an 11 yr old girl who got back on the horse. Another cyclist approaches; I turn around and tell the guy; ‘my horse here, she doesn’t really like bikes today…” but he didn’t hear me and before I knew it, Cloud was jumpy again. I was prepared, feet in the stirrups, reins in hands and ready to run if that’s what Cloud needs. Sometimes we just feel like jumping out of our own skin. I get it.
When we returned to the barn, I tell the owner what a great experience it’s been. We laugh about Cloud’s aversion to the bikes; she sees those bikes every damn day. It reminds me of the phrase we use sometimes when dealing with things we don’t like, “yeah, I know, but I don’t have to like it!”. I comment about Cloud and say something about what a sweet horse she is; how well we were matched and the owner roars with laughter and says, “Oh, Cloud is not sweet. She’s strong, she’s reliable, she’s great with riders, but sweet? Don’t let her fool you; but, she is brave.”
I am perplexed.
My face said it all, I am guessing, because the owner continues: “…that she prefers to ride last says it all. It’s the most dangerous place in the line – the most vulnerable to threat. She needs her space, but she can handle the risk“.
I took this gift, this experience, with me and headed back down to the ocean. I thought about the 11 yr old girl some more. I thought about the match up with Bonnie & Cloud. I thought about the conversation I needed to have.
I thought about what it means to be brave.
Everyone wants to be brave.