When Mary Courtwright was young, she used to think courage was a quality that people were born with. But over time, as she has had to make tough life choices, she has found that courage is something quiet and steadfast, always there to help her make decisions.
I believe that courage is forged as one endures the fires of life and chooses to face the flames—even when no one is looking. As a child, I thought courage was an innate quality, passed down from parents or found within the solitude of church. I was taught to make responsible decisions and to treat others fairly, but no one told me that the most difficult choices are those that take place quietly in my own heart. It is easy to do the right thing when you have an audience, others from whom to derive judgment and receive praise. But when I found myself alone and pregnant at 19 years old, and solely bore the responsibility to choose my path, I began to discover what “courage” really meant.
It was a quiet moment spent in deep meditation that I knew what my decision would be. The message was clear: the child within me needed to be born and was more important than any discomfort, fear, or loneliness I might face. The decision to keep the child took courage, but not nearly as much as the long road ahead would demand. Single motherhood shapes you by offering opportunities to make courageous, unselfish decisions, but it also comes with a great deal of pain and loneliness. There is a social stigma connected to single motherhood that many would like to believe no longer exists. They are wrong, and that was made painfully clear to me more often than I would like to remember. It took courage to go to work even though I was exhausted and felt hopeless inside, and when I strove to go back to school even though I barely believed in myself, and when I took a risk and I followed my heart to try to work things out with the father even though the odds were stacked against us. Those choices, those moments that I faced the flames, have led me to my greatest experiences of love, happiness, and fulfillment.
Now, almost 13 years later, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I chose the more difficult road. My daughter is beautiful, vibrant, and full of the stuff from which courage is made. Just the other day she told me I was her hero for the decision I made so long ago, when I first began to discover what “courage” meant. I am happily married to her father, whom the power of courageous choices shaped as well; at times I am humbled by his intense commitment to his job in animal welfare. As a successful mother, wife, student, and professional, I find myself on the cusp of sharing my understanding of courage with the world. I plan to do so as a teacher, writer, and psychologist. I am ready to teach others about determination, the pursuit of wisdom, the importance of loving yourself as well as others, and yes—the forging of courage.
I believe that courage is still being shaped inside me as I write this, quietly preparing me for my next adventure, for my next trial by fire. Courage is not an innate quality, but emerges as we allow it room. It is not hard as rock, but soft and malleable, stained with tears, filled with reflections of the hidden parts of ourselves, and always waiting to reveal itself. When I quiet my mind, the message is clear: opportunities for courage present themselves to each of us daily, and if we let them, they will lead us to our greatest experiences of love, happiness, and fulfillment. Someone needs to remind humanity of this… maybe that someone is me. Courage is waiting for you to look into the flames—but you have to make the choice to be transformed. This I believe.
Mary Courtwright teaches psychology and sociology courses at the college level and manages the Liberal Arts Department at Bryant & Stratton College in Eastlake, Ohio. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and has been trained in teaching at the graduate level. Her writing has been featured in the Heights Observer and on National Public Radio; her first young adult novel, Song of the Messenger, was published in 2007.
Recorded by KERA in Dallas, Texas and independently produced for This I Believe by Dan Gediman
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