I used to think I was brave and strong.
Then I stepped out and started doing things on my own and I realised how scary the world can be.
While in Munich recently I went to the place where the “White Rose” dropped their last set of anti-Nazi pamphlets off a balcony in Lugwig Maximillian University. The White Rose were a very small group of nonviolent underground activists who are now famous throughout Germany and beyond for their sacrificial stand against Nazi Germany. One of the guys even became a saint in the Orthodox Church. Schools and public spaces in Germany are named after them. Movies and books have been written about them. So, what did they do? In the middle of the World War Two, they graffitied slogans on walls and posted thousands of pamphlets calling on Germans to take cognisance of what the Nazi government was doing to their country. In what was to be their last pamphlet drop two members of the White Rose, siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl, put piles of the pamphlets around their university. Sophie Scholl threw the last of the pamphlets off the balcony of the large university atrium. This caught the attention of the janitor who “arrested” them just as they were leaving the university. They were arrested, interrogated and within four days were tried, found guilty and beheaded. Hans and Sophie were 24 and 21 years old respectively.
I think a lot about things. I probably over think them sometimes. I struggle to just let loose and go with the flow. When I watch movies I watch the background characters too. I want to see what they are doing… how are they contributing to the story (or not). And so it is with life sometimes. I consider all the options. I chew the cud of my thoughts. But with so many possibilities, I can become paralysed. I worry. I get scared. I am sometimes a bit of a scaredy pants.
But being a bit of a scaredy pants means that I have to be brave a bit more often than the average person. I have to be brave about things that others don’t have to be. I have become more comfortable with the awkwardity and nerve-wracking tension that fills me just after choosing to do and just before doing the brave thing. And so when it comes to being brave about big things, it is a bit more of a familiar (although still treacherous) path to take.
Now, I’m not just talking about rock climbing or paddling through rapids or moving to the other side of the world for six months. I’ve done those things and they were scary but they were fun too. I’m talking more about a bravery that might not lead to fun. A bravery to be honest with yourself about situations you are in and the bravery to be honest with others. Bravery to ask questions that you don’t really want to know the answer to but know that you need to ask. Bravery to risk your vulnerable weak heart. Bravery to do something that the last time you did it you got really hurt. Bravery to stand when everyone else sits. Bravery to run when the time is right, when your heart tells you – not before and not after. Bravery to stop when you can’t go any further. Bravery to give up. Bravery to ask for help from those who love and care for you. Bravery like this is something that I’m growing in… veeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy slowly.
These things often do not turn out to be fun. Sometimes they build your character or soften your heart, sometimes they leave you for dead.
It’s a pity that we have only one word for all these different types of bravery or moments of courage in English. They are subtly different and require the slighty different reservoirs of strength. Bravery looks different for different situations and people. Sometimes to be brave is to stand out. Sometimes to be brave is to do nothing. Sometimes the bravest are those who wait and not give up waiting even if you give up hoping and make a few mistakes along the way.
The White Rose were brave for many reasons. They were all types of braveness. For me though, one of their bravest moments was believing in what they stood for when everything around them crumbled and it seemed like they had lost. I don’t know what their final thoughts and hopes were but after they were killed, their pamphlet was smuggled to the allies and in 1945 it was reprinted and dropped all over Germany by the British to encourage Germans to stand against the Nazis. It’s a bit of a Hollywood ending and life doesn’t always give you those, but still… the story gives you and me something to think about.