So a good writing friend of mine e-mailed me directly after I posted about being brave and asked if I would still feel so strongly in favor of taking the brave chance if my bravery had come to naught. I answered her but thought it was an excellent question and wanted to address it in some way publicly.
It's taken me a little while to decide how I want to approach this. Finally, I decided to be straightforward up to a point and just beg your indulgence for the places where I fall short of complete vulnerability. Because the truth is, I have been brave and failed.
There was the time when I showed a girl a group of oblique, experimental love stories to the girl they were about, knowing she was intelligent, and hoping she would get the message. "I wish someone would write stories like that about me," she said. "Someone did," I told her, holding my breath. "I know," she said. Her eyes sparkled dreamily. But my love was mature and adult and she wasn't ready for that.
There was the time I held a photography exhibition in college as a non-art major, something rarely done at my school. It was the most public exposure of my creativity. I took a chance in my subject matter and approach, sort of bridging the gap between art and photo journalism. The exhibition was an utter failure, and I heard almost nothing but a week of terrible comments. There were exceptions, a few who got what I was doing, but most thought it was boring, uninspired, unoriginal.
There was the time when I was a kid and I gutted out a surgery that had a long, painful recovery and ended up not resolving the issue.
There was the archaeology expedition in the middle of nowhere in Alaska where I fell and cut my neck open with a log in a river that was thick with bacteria and decay.
There is the list of foods that I still cannot eat because of smell associations from the maceration room.
There is all the work, dedication, and excitement that went into relocating from Alaska back to Indiana to go to grad school and pursue forensic anthropology, only to find out, at the end of an incredibly painful year that I have a long-diagnosed, severe learning disability that did not interfere with field work but made the graduate classes literally just about impossible, meaning that I had just short-circuited my entire academic career by taking a chance on a second masters rather than taking either a safer-bet PhD program or research assistantship. My life, in many ways, remains in a vortex because of that.
So, yes, sometimes you act in courage and things don't work out.
But then, other times you act in courage, and you get to jump out of helicopters into swamps, dig in cemeteries from 3000 BC, evade a drug cartel in Mexico, help put away a man who killed three people on a whim, or marry your precious soul mate.
And when you don't win, at least you were brave. Acting in fear, you never win, and at the end of the day all you have is your fear.
Even with the trade-off losses, bravery wins.