My friend Rhonda spent months and all her creative energy shooting 12 beautiful women who also happened to be victims of domestic violence. On the night of the big reveal of their photos, I couldn’t wait to see these amazing photos and real life women. Almost all models were present and we sat in folding chairs in her backyard and watched the photos roll across the screen as the wind threatened to blow us all away. Each woman was stunning. Each shoot seemed to show something different. Strength. Beauty. Fragility. Fun. Resilience. The photographer really saw them and wanted to make sure everyone else did too.
Instead of talking about struggle and the past, we were looking at picture after picture of penetrating beauty. These portraits show that these women are to be admired not for where they have been or what they have survived, but for the courageous women that they are right now. Every one of these women had a different story, past and present. But they all had a common thread. They have survived domestic violence, walked away and come out beautiful and stronger for it. It was hard to sit beside them, watch their images and know what to do with that. Sometimes I think we get stuck in the struggle as well. Trapped in our past and in the battles that we let that define us. Where we have walked shapes us, but it is not who we are. It is not who we should see when we look in the mirror.
I wanted what I saw in the photos. I just didn’t want the hard past that has brought them there. I think if you ask anyone they will tell you that they want courage. They want to be strong, brave and kind. I started to think that the best thing I could do to honor these women, to honor myself was to make some of those same choices for myself. I could start choosing the beautiful present over the struggle. I could let myself be seen and do my best to see the beauty in others. Not all of us carry bruises and scars on the outside, but somewhere in our past we have all been hurt and broken. We have all had to make choices to leave things behind and move forward. No matter what the cause, big or small, walking away from what we know is always terrifying. For these women, choosing courage meant calling the police or a women’s shelter, but for all of us – it means choosing the better. Choosing the uncertain. Choosing ourselves or are children. Choosing to walk forward despite paralyzing fear rather than staying stuck where we are.
Sometimes I think courage is this giant thing that only some people are born with. This super-hero power that allows the brave to risk their lives and show giant public heroics. These twelve woman sitting next to me in folding chairs might have told me a different story. That courage starts small and with knees knocking. That maybe choosing courage looks a little different than the movies.
Brene Brown says this:
Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.”
Choosing ordinary courage might be
calling a counselor.
saying yes. saying no.
asking for help.
praying when the other end is silent.
telling the truth.
filling out an application.
putting it out there.
and then backwards.
and then forwards again.
Somedays I believe this. I believe that I am brave, strong, courageous. I believe that I am worth it. But there are also days that I forget. Sometimes for lots of days in a row, I forget. Ordinary courage is not a character trait that you are born with. That some people are just gifted with more than others, like a great metabolism. It is not a feeling you get, instead it is something that you choose and something that you practice. Every single day. Regardless of what happened yesterday or an uncertain future. You can choose to be brave right now. You can choose to have courage. You can choose to be kind. You can choose to love. You can choose to hold someone else’s hand while they choose it too.
Leave behind whatever is holding you back and find the beautiful.