Fathom Mag
Article

Unremarkable Acts of Courage

Learning from those who keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Published on:
January 27, 2020
Read time:
2 min.
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Two days before our son was born, my husband and I moved our family into what was widely considered at the time to be an “at-risk” neighborhood. We had renovated a house on a busy yet neglected corner—a brick bungalow formerly used for drug distribution, now freshly painted in cheery shades of turquoise. We hadn’t even finished setting up the crib when Caden made his entrance into our world. 

Shortly after his birth, my newborn son needed emergency open-heart surgery. While he was in the hospital, people told me over and over again, “You are so brave, I couldn’t do it.” “Yes you could,” I answered with a shrug. “When it’s your child, you just do what you have to do.” I knew that I wasn’t courageous—more like scared as hell. I trembled and did the only thing I could for my son: put one foot in front of the other. 

I watch them carry their burdens and I realize we find courage in the fires of community and darkness rather than the halls of power or privilege.

The lessons wrought beside his bed in the ICU during his first month of life would lay themselves into the sinews of our brains and the curve of our backs bent in prayer. One day we would trace these lessons in his stitched-together chest, not yet knowing how they would offer us fresh understanding of the trauma our new neighbors held in their own skin. Caden would be the catalyst for our understanding, as our neighbors have always known, that there is no insurance against the pain of life and the seeming endlessness of loss. Caring for Caden taught us that courage is, more often than not, the simple and unremarkable act of putting one foot in front of the other. Of doing what needs to be done, even when it feels impossible. And I watch my neighbors do that every single day. 

I see the footfalls of courage when the woman who has just had a stroke asks for a ride to bail her teenage son out of jail—she needs him home because who else can take care of younger siblings while she recovers? I see it when the family whose car was totaled—which means no more working, which means no way to pay the rent, which already stretched their paychecks beyond capacity—walks and bikes and saves and scrapes by. Courage imprints the sidewalk everyday her walk to school takes her past the place she was raped. When he misses the bus and the icy rain is enough to keep him home time and again, he never graduates. When everything feels stacked against my neighbors, whose son keeps getting expelled and they are asked to take time off their hard-won minimum-wage job to continually go and meet with his teachers. When he walks to the corner store, gets robbed at gunpoint outside the brick bungalow on the corner, and finds himself suddenly unable to focus in class so he drops out of college. Systems fail them, and fail their children, yet what choice do they have but to continue? To take the next step, and then the next one, to try and make a better life for themself and their family. That’s what they do, the simple and unremarkable act of courage, putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s what they do, the simple and unremarkable act of courage, putting one foot in front of the other.

I have landed in a place that Father Gregory Boyle calls “kinship,” which he describes as “an ability to stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” 

I watch them carry their burdens and I realize we find courage in the fires of community and darkness rather than the halls of power or privilege. As Brené Brown reminds us, true courage is born from vulnerability, not strength. When we find ourselves in vulnerable places—beside hospital beds or walking with the marginalized—we discover the depths of open-hearted courage we didn’t even know we possessed.

Rebecca Stanley
Becca Stanley lives with her family in the heart of downtown Atlanta, where they serve as intentional neighbors and community builders. She is executive director of Blueprint 58, the nonprofit mentoring program she and her husband started in the neighborhood eight years ago. She and her husband Adam are high school sweethearts who lived in the suburbs together for four years before moving downtown. They have three children of their own (Jayci, Caden, and Isaiah), along with many youths who have found a safe place to land with their family over the years.

Cover image by Bulkouras Nicos.

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