6 min read

on bravery

reflections for october 2021
on bravery

hello, friends. time has been so strange this year, rushing by one second and crawling the next. so much has happened, so much has stalled. i cannot believe that it’s october, can hardly reckon with all that this year has brought. and as we slip into autumn, as the winds change and the weather shifts and we prepare for the witches’ new year, i want to share some thoughts on bravery, courage, audacity.

what is bravery, really? not dictionary definitions, not the ways that we as a society understand it or praise it or tear it down. what does it mean to be brave, to demonstrate bravery, to embody the state of braveness?

find a quiet corner, a soothing drink, a place where you can breathe. give yourself a few moments of stillness, a few moments of peace. stretch and settle yourself. let’s go.

on bravery

bravery seems simple on the surface. it’s doing something that scares us, being willing to confront agony or pain or sorrow for something bigger, something bolder. it’s  believing that something is worth fighting for, that it’s perhaps worth suffering for. it’s believing that the ends justify the means, that any danger or difficulty is outweighed by the potential benefits, the possible value.

it’s hard to talk about bravery without acknowledging the unknowns — and perhaps, the unknowns are what makes something truly brave. standing up, speaking out, acting in a way that will provoke or stimulate or impact, all without knowing what will happen. an action that will encourage a reaction, a choice that has uncertain consequences.

bravery is seen as something that not everyone has, that not everyone can do. we hold it in high regard, even as we whisper “i could never.” it’s a strange kind of judgement, an inner dialogue that looks at someone’s actions or words or efforts and immediately dismisses it as impossible for ourselves. “they’re braver than i am.”

bravery isn’t the same as fearlessness, not quite. it’s not necessarily unflinching, not always resolute, not consistently heroic. bravery requires courage, but other things come along too: doubt, worry, disappointment.

bravery goes hand in hand with strength, intention, grit. it’s being willing to stand alone, to burn brightly in a way that others can see, to fight for something even if you’re the only one there. it’s being afraid, and doing it anyway.

but this concept isn’t as simple as it appears, isn’t as universally accepted as we may think. we’re fickle about bravery, erratic about who gets the label, the badge of honor, the weight of the title. we name something, someone, as brave, and then may come to despise them later for that same quality, that same courage.

we whisper of the bravery of figures of the past: healers, martyrs, freedom riders. we ignore and mislabel the bravery of figures in the present: refugees, protestors, health care providers. we imagine the bravery of figures of the future, wonder what new frontiers will be explored and colonized, dream of new advances. we twist the very concept of bravery to suit our narratives, ignore certain facts in order to lift some up and tear others down. some bravery we laud, other bravery we dismiss.

certain kinds of bravery cannot be denied. we analyze and obsess over the bravery of anita hill, of simone biles, of michaela cole — and more generally of victims, so often women, so often people of color or other marginalized identities, who share their stories of harassment, assault, abuse, coercion, on and on and on. we laud these people in particular because we know that so often, their stories fall on deaf ears, that justice is rarely served. we know that they are working in broken systems, fighting against structures that have been designed to keep them out. we know that their bravery will likely not be recognized or understood, and in fact will make them targets for further violence and abuse.

every once in awhile, we get some good news. the truth is heard. bravery is rewarded. but for many of us, we are in awe of the courage it takes to be brave because we know that this specific bravery leads to threats, fear, hate. we are in awe of the kind of bravery that does its work, knowing that the result may not be satisfying. we are in awe because bravery is not always a guarantee of success. bravery doesn’t know the odds, or if it does, it ignores them.

bravery tries anyway.

the tarot reinforces this idea, this truth, that bravery can be seen as ridiculous by others. we call the hero of the major arcana, that figure whose journey we follow through twists and turns and losses and victories, the fool for a reason: not because the dream itself is ridiculous, but because they are willing to start down a path without knowing how it will end, are willing to risk what they already have for something that is far away, imaginary, uncertain.

the fool is what this person is called by the observers, the doubters, but is not necessarily who they actually are. this someone is brave enough to endure the scorn, the judgement, the ridicule. their dream is big enough to help them have faith that the pain and loneliness of chasing their ambitions will be worth the fight.

bravery defines the fool’s journey in so many ways. the effort that it takes to keep moving forward, to keep grasping at hope, to keep creating and connecting, to put one foot in front of the other in spite of the cost, is a lot to hold. it can be too much to define, too much to try and understand. sometimes, it can be too much to actually accomplish.

yet it’s in the trying that we find magic. it’s in the trying that we evolve.

moving through death is brave, but struggling for the balance of temperance is even braver. enduring the tower is brave, but the necessary, gentle healing of the star is braver still. aces always feel brave, that starting of something new, that belief that the seeds we’re planting will take root, grow, blossom. all of these cards offer the chance at something new, something different, something beautiful. all of these cards hint at the same kind of hope, the same glimmer of magic.

the gift of optimism is one that can feel impossible to grasp, one that takes a tremendous amount of courage and stamina and heart to hold and maintain. and in pulling ourselves up, in accepting helping hands, in being able to believe that the future still holds joy and pleasure and power — that too is brave, so brave it feels impossible.

bravery is the belief that some things are worth the risk, worth the effort, worth the fear. it’s looking at something impossible and still hoping that there’s a way, believing that success is an option. it’s walking all the way to hell for the slightest possibility of reclaiming something lost, doing something that no one has ever done before. it’s seeing the world as it could be, in spite of the way that it is. it’s dreaming so big that we can barely hold it, can hardly describe it. it’s imagining a future that no one else can quite see, and reaching for it, fighting for it, even if we have to do it alone.

bravery is the act of cultivating hope, of giving it space to breathe and grow, to thrive. and when hope slips through our fingers, it’s also remembering what it felt like to hold it, believing that it will one day return — and that when we are able to find that hope again, grasp it again, our hands will be stronger this time.

the fool has so much to teach us about dreaming, about possibility, about bravery. they help us have faith in ourselves, in our actions, in our communities. they encourage us to believe that the things we long for could be real, that the magic we dream of might one day crackle through our fingertips and move out into the world, changing and shaping it. after all, don’t we have to be at least a little bit foolish to be brave?

and really — is that so bad?

if you missed it, i have some wonderful new ways that you can support my ongoing writing, including work on my book and an exciting new collaboration with sovereignty herbs. join our study community for a conversation on the fool all month over on patreon, and make sure you check out my recent piece on the shift from virgo to libra season right here on substack.

wishing you a courageous and captivating october.

images from this post feature cards from the lumina tarot. all photographs by meg jones wall.