The Bent Fork for Bravery
Scripture: Matthew 22:36-40
“Our present idea of freedom is only the freedom to do as we please: to sell ourselves for a high salary, a home in the suburbs, and idle weekends. But that is a freedom dependent upon affluence, which is in turn dependent upon the rapid consumption of exhaustible supplies. The other kind of freedom is the freedom to take care of ourselves and of each other. The freedom of affluence opposes and contradicts the freedom of community life.”
– Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound
I am not naturally a courageous person, or at least I don’t perceive myself to be. I’ve never broken a bone. Never suffered a concussion. I’ve always been very aware of the frailty of the human body. While some kids climbed to the peak of the metal jungle gym and stood atop the bars, I hung back, staring in both awe and judgment, certain their foolishness would result in breaking every bone in their bodies.
The first time I remember someone calling me “brave” I was in high school. I was homeschooled for the entirety of my educational career, but during my senior year of high school, I began taking classes at the local community college, one of which was public speaking. I was seventeen and afraid of everything, though I mostly looked aloof and disinterested. It’s a coping mechanism.
One of our assignments was to give a commemoration speech and award a classmate with an honor of our own invention. (I chose to use this speech to roast our professor to the joy of my classmates and the detriment of my own grade, but that’s a story for another time.) To my surprise, one classmate chose to honor me in their speech, awarding me a trophy they’d crafted by bending a fork into a free-standing sculpture of sorts. “The Bent-Fork for Bravery!” They heralded. I was embarrassed and delighted, and stunned. Me? Brave?
My classmate noted things like how I had bravely enrolled in a class though I’d not had any classroom experience prior to and how I was brave because I was the youngest in the group. They continued listing things about the ways I was being brave by taking a class at a community college, and as they talked, I got to see myself through their eyes.
I knew I was anxious every time I walked into the classroom. I knew that I agonized over which desk to sit at and where to put my bag and how to sit and what to do with my hands. I knew that I didn’t talk to the other students because I wasn’t sure what to say, how to relate. I had not seen the latest movie. I had never listened to their favorite band, let alone heard the latest album.
But I showed up, and tried to make sense of all those unknowns and did my best to navigate them. And that was brave.
For many of us right now bravery looks like learning to redefine what we think of as “freedom”–like Berry describes. Right now I’m not free to go to my favorite coffee shop or to a conference or to go about my days however and whenever I please. I’m not free to buy whatever I want in the store (because they may be out of stock) and however much of it I want (because others have needs too). I’m not free to chase new opportunities or look at new homes or plan vacations because we all need to slow down, stay in place, give this moment the space it needs.
Which all sounds the opposite of courageous.
Courage, we’ve been told, looks like hobbits setting out on a quest; like Jedis crisscrossing the galaxy; like forging ahead into the unknown with nothing but a bag of supplies and a trusty sidekick! But despite our great love for reading and watching epic tales of heroism and adventure, perhaps the most courageous path any of us can strike out on is the path of remaking ourselves, of relearning what the world is and how to live well within it.
We have long needed to be brave enough to remake our understanding of the world.
The whole of creation has been groaning. Our siblings who bear the weight of the oppressive systems we’ve built have been crying out. And I have spent far too many days lulled into comfort and complacency, finding ways to fit loving my neighbors and my enemies into the spare time of my life rather than make this great commandment the orienting factor for all my decisions.
As we’re all asked right now to think more critically about not only what our own lives mean, and what we individually need to be safe, but also how we live well and love one another in our collective actions, may we be courageous enough to let the world we knew shatter, and brave enough to build a better one from the inside out.
Today, as you show up for your life amid all the challenges and changes we’ve faced in the last five days, I award you your own Bent Fork for Bravery. Just showing up and finding new rhythms to live with is courageous. Staying home and finding new normals and learning how to conference call instead of going to the office is astonishingly great. Letting people know what you need and how you’re concerned and being vulnerable enough to not have it all together is its own form of heroism.
May you find grace in that, for yourself and those you love.