Legacies of Courage
I was 25 years old before I could distinguish the difference between courage and bravery. Though I grew up with a legacy of courageous ancestors, for a long time the two words were synonymous in my mind. But in my mid-twenties, I realized that the distinction between bravery and courage is that bravery is confined to a single moment in time, whereas courage is many moments of bravery added together over the course of months, years, or even a lifetime. Prior to this realization, I had never considered myself courageous. It’s hard to think of yourself that way when you come from a family like mine.
Take, for example, my great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Gustaf Erickson. When he was 14 years old, he decided it was time to leave home and make his way to America. He found a boat leaving his native Sweden and stowed away on it. He arrived in America speaking no English whatsoever, but somehow found his way to Idaho, where he claimed several acres of land, married, and made his fortune. When I was 14, I was barely able to walk to the library on my own, let alone sail across oceans and travel across continents.
Andrew Gustaf’s courage was passed down through his family. My grandma inherited his legacy of courage. In the 1970s, she stood up to an unfaithful husband and got a divorce, despite the fact that she had no education and two small daughters to support. My grandma went back to school and became a teacher. While raising her two girls, she held a full time job, ran a household, and eventually received her Master’s degree in Education. It takes bravery to stand up for yourself, but it takes true courage to decide to change your circumstances in the face of adversity. My grandma is a hero to me because during extremely difficult circumstances, she found the courage within herself to face her challenges head-on.
My grandma’s example was passed down to my mother. Abandoned by my biological father, she gave birth to me at age 19. Instead of giving me up for adoption like so many other young unmarried mothers, she raised me —alone — and gave me the best home she could. When she later married my stepfather, she helped support our family by becoming a kindergarten teacher, later earning a Master’s degree and eventually a Doctorate while also raising three children, running a household, and working as a full-time administrator for an early college high school.
My mother’s example of courage has also passed down to me, though I was well into adulthood before I was able to recognize the courage within myself. My story is more ordinary than my great-grandfather’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s. I have struggled with serious depression and anxiety since I was a child. During my teens and early adulthood, I found solace in self harm and bulimia. Upon the birth of my son, however, I realized that I had to change - if not for myself, then for him. Finding healthy ways of coping with depression and anxiety is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. At times, it has been difficult to get out of bed in the mornings. My story of courage is not an exciting one, but it is a persistent one. Instead of giving in to my illness, I choose to fight it. I choose to try my best to improve myself, day in and day out, that I might pass on a legacy of courage to my son and his children.
One of my favorite books states “we believe in ordinary acts of bravery.” I love this quote because it’s true; ordinary acts of bravery, day after day, forge courage out of the flames of disappointment, struggle, and fear. The more disappointment, struggle and fear you face (and persistently conquer) in life, the stronger a person you can become. No matter how ordinary the struggles you face may seem, just the act of persistently fighting them makes you a courageous person. Recognizing the progress you've made and celebrating it also takes a surprising amount of strength every day; it's easy to focus on your failures, and so much harder to acknowledge your worth. Courage is made up of days, months, and years worth of small acts of bravery. No matter how ordinary you think your story is, if you keep pushing through the obstacles in your way, there's a good chance someone will look back on your own legacy one day as an example of courage.
Kris Surname is a junior at BYU. She is majoring in English with an Editing minor. Kris lives in [location] with her husband, Nate, and their 7 year old son, Toby. Her goals in life are to become a crazy cat lady, to move to England, and to write novels for young adults. Kris is an expert in all things Star Wars, Avatar/Korra and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In her spare time, Kris loves to read everything she can get her hands on, chase Toby, and make up Grumpy Cat memes. Kris’s friends give her an A+ in Awesomeness.