I am not always brave. I don’t always do the right thing. In the spur of a moment, my decisions tend to be uneven, irrational – governed more by my immediate emotions and fears rather than sound logic.
That’s why, while I was volunteering at the hospital on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I froze. I had just returned to the lobby after transporting a patient to the radiology lab when I saw an elderly woman fall face down on the ground, unconscious, blood spilling from her mouth and chin. It was terrifying.
A thousand thoughts ran through my head. What if she doesn’t wake up? What if I’m the only one here and I should have done something? What if?
Before I could even decide what to do, the hospital lobby was swarming with capable doctors, nurses and security guards. I became a bystander — I shrank away from the commotion. I let myself become invisible. I was not brave enough to offer a helping hand; I wasn’t even brave enough to move.
Two minutes passed. Three, then four. No response from the woman. The makeshift beeping monitor they had attached to her chest sped up rapidly, and I held my breath. Then, finally — after what seemed like an eternity — something.
“Are you alright?” she said, opening her eyes. She could barely move her mouth — her head was bruised, her chin cracked and lips still bleeding. The feeble inquiry was directed at her daughter who stood nearby. The woman, in all of her pain, weakness and confusion, was first and foremost concerned about her daughter’s safety.
“Honey, don’t you worry about me,” she said to her daughter. It was such a simple thing to say, yet to me it was also incredibly brave.
When I think of courage, I usually think of astronauts and civil rights leaders, presidents and war heroes. What I don’t often think of, though, are the small acts of bravery that happen every day. The spirited kid on the playground with scraped knees who stands up to the bully. The devoted wife who hugs her husband one last time before he leaves for combat. The elderly woman, who, after falling hard, can think only of the safety of her loved ones when she wakes up.
It is things like these that make me so intoxicated by the commonplace yet remarkable nature of human beings. The part of us that drives us to be brave, to be selfless, to have courage — to put someone else’s well-being before our own in awful situations — even in the smallest, most ordinary of ways.
This kind of courage isn’t particularly exceptional or noteworthy. It’s not going to earn a place in our textbooks; it’s not going to alter the course of history. No, this is the courage that enlightens our everyday. The courage that makes up the small moments of a lifetime. And maybe it’s precisely for that reason that it shouldn’t go unnoticed.
I am aware that I volunteer at a hospital. I am aware that every single day, people come in with injuries and inflictions, suffering and in pain. I am aware that worse things happen all the time, that this is nothing compared to all the tragedy in the world. But this was the first time I had ever witnessed such a severe accident while volunteering, and instead of helping, instead of acting, I did nothing.
I realize now, writing this piece, that what I saw in that woman was exactly what I didn’t see in myself. She acted with a courage, a selflessness that I am still striving to learn.
I am not always brave. But I’m trying to be, and I hope someday that bravery — even the ordinary kind, especially the ordinary kind — will come as naturally to me as it did to her.