Surviving Divorce Is Not Courage. Saving Lives While Risking Your Own IS.

“I can’t believe how brave you are!” was my mother’s backhanded compliment. At least, I think it was a compliment. She couldn’t believe I had it in me.

She was never very encouraging about any of my dreams. When I wanted to be a teacher she told me to marry well because I was never going to make any money teaching (that last word said heavy with disappointment and disdain.)

So, a few months after my divorce was final she tells me the move was “brave.”

Not a word I would have chosen.

At the time I was feeling shaken, crazy, empty. I felt like the biggest loser on the planet. My husband, All-American athlete, bright and amazing math teacher, Coach of the Year numerous times – didn’t want me anymore.

Just before we separated he asked, “Are you still planning on moving out? ‘Cause I brought you home more boxes.”

Gee. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

So, no. I didn’t feel brave. I felt rejected and stupid.

My mother’s comment certainly speaks of her generation. Divorce was not common among her circles. And certainly not with children. She painted me to be this courageous woman, raising a child on my own.

But leaving a highly dysfunctional marriage isn’t courageous. That’s survival.

Courage is Chesley Sullenberger. He bravely landed a plane in the Hudson River, saving all the people on board, making sure everyone, passengers and crew, were safe before being the last to leave the aircraft.

Courage is my brother-in-law and everyone else who serves in the military. They bravely fight for a greater cause, helping less fortunate countries become safe and self-sufficient.

Courage lies with the people of Haiti and Greenland. Losing their homes, their lifestyles, their lives to natural disaster. Bravely rebuilding. Reaching out to others in their time of need.

Courage is the woman who leaves an abusive relationship, protecting herself and her children. She bravely leaves with no prospect of a job or a way to provide shelter for her children. All she knows is that she must leave and take her chances for the safety of her children. That’s courage.

Courage is the doctor who gives up his practice for a year to work with Doctors Without Borders or any other humanitarian aid organization. Working in countries ravaged by war, disaster and disease. Many times risking their lives to save the lives of others.

Courage is working in the inner city schools, walking through metal detectors every day, receiving threats from former students now involved in gangs, lying on the floor for four hours with your 35 students during riots in L.A. all because “they need me.” That, my friends, is my sister and so many others out there. Not me, taking the cushy private prep-school job.

Courage is exploring uncharted territory, discovering new lands and all the science and great discovery it gains. Astronauts, scientists, medical researchers handling deadly diseases, great explorers. They live courage.

Surviving divorce is just that, survival. And if surviving is courage, then we are all courageous. But my bravery is not to be recognized or commended.

Chesley Sullenberger. Douglas MacArthur. Missy Elliot. Dr. Leo Ho. Jaime Escalante. Christa McAuliffe. Buzz Aldrin. Dr. Eliabeth Blackburn. Col. (Dr.) James Swaby. Ferdinand Magellan.

Just a few of the many courageous people out there.

Truly courageous people.

(This post is part of the Five For Ten project at Momalon. Please visit their site for more wonderful posts on Courage. Or click the button below to find out how YOU can participate!)

35 Comments

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35 responses to “Surviving Divorce Is Not Courage. Saving Lives While Risking Your Own IS.

  1. Steven Harris

    Courage is also being open enough to talk about these things in public. 😀

  2. I think it’s courageous – to be able to pick yourself up and keep moving with life. But that’s just me 😉
    Courage takes all forms, and it’s in each of us.

  3. angelcel

    Yes it may not have been the best word to pick but is it possible she was referring more to the way you were handling it all?

  4. All the things you listed are corageous. But so is leaving a disfunctional marriage. So many people don’t because it’s HARD and scary. It takes courage and you’ve got it.

  5. Oh, mothers. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

    I think courage encompasses a spectrum. And even though you felt like your divorce was more about survival…fast forward a bit. It takes a lot of courage to love again, to commit again, to open ourselves up again.

  6. Courage is the quality that enables one to face difficulty without fear. It also describes someone acting in accordance with their beliefs, despite criticism. You, my dear, fit both those descriptions.

  7. My goodness. I actually teared up reading all of your responses. I feel like I have my own little personal cheerleading section. You all are the best! Thank you!

  8. I think it does take courage to go through a divorce. I actually wrote a post today about the divorce my parents are going through right now and I think my mom is being very brave. I can understand how you felt differently- every divorce is so different.

  9. One of my best friends is going through a divorce and leaving a bad situation behind. I see courage in your story, and I’ve seen courage in hers. She had to choose to go, and she chooses each day to keep going. I admire and appreciate the heroes you listed, and I’m just as inspired by everyday courage.

  10. Courage is also knowing when things must change and being able to make the change. Sounds like you did, and you didn’t let it overtake you. That’s big and I can only imagine how hard.

    Great to meet you here as part of Five for Ten. Looking forward to reading more.

  11. Jane, courage is accepting what happened and be willing to write about it. What an elegant post on such personal turmoil. This may not fit your definition of courage, but don’t underestimate the courage it took to write those words.

    I’ve visited before, but I am over again from Momalom.

  12. You, Jane, are as courageous as those you mentioned. I think that courage also lies in the ordinary–getting ready despite the debilitating chronic pain you experience, working to support your family at a job that you do not really enjoy, working your way through school, all things that are not really recognized but are equally as courageous.

    And you, going through a painful divorce. That is courageous.

  13. But love, don’t you see that going through that horrible time, putting one foot in front of the other, not allowing yourself to crumble in the wake of an enormous loss is… courage?

    You’ve got grit, my friend, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    ps: your ex is a Tool.

  14. Got here through momalom and I appreciate this post.

    I think the courage is in not letting his words or actions define you, in knowing that whatever his crap was doesn’t mean you’re crap. That takes more than courage – it takes belief and hope and a lot of other esoteric things!

    And the only way you get to where you are, of being able to write about it, is by being able to look back and realize that blind-sided is not always blind, especially when you look back with honesty.

    Thanks for this post.

  15. Wonderful examples. But surviving divorce does take courage. It’s a different sort of courage. It’s day-in-day-out without the world that used to accept you. It’s rejection from family. It’s kids to get through explosion after explosion, as their world falls apart and they don’t know why. And it can be a whole lot more.

    Those you site are courageous. Extraordinarily so. And also, heroic. I don’t consider everyday courage heroic, but I do think it takes facing down fear, sometimes hourly, to get through the day. Most often, because their are children whose future you hold in your hands.

  16. Count me among your cheering section here, Jane – another voice applauding the, yes, courage it took for you to reshape your life as you did. And, as Big Little Wolf remarked, you weren’t doing this alone, you had a daughter to protect – so everything you did reverberated not just for you, but for her as well. That’s courage in my book, my friend.

  17. My mother had a twin sister. My mother lost her husband, my Dad at the same time my Aun’ts husband walked out on her.

    They were both brave. But my Mom always thought my Aunt was braver. Surviving a divorce, she thought, was more difficult than losing the love of your life.

    Pause for thought when your world is turned upside down.

  18. Excellent posts and wonderful comments. Because they’re all saying what I was thinking. I remember my dad telling me this scary situtation he faced as a police officer, and I told him how brave he was, and he just shrugged it off as doing his job, just surviving. Just like I think everyone on your list would look at their situations. Just like you look at your divorce. And I don’t think you just survived, I think you thrived.

  19. Yes, those people are courageous, and amazing, and awe-inspiring, and inspirational. But courage lies just as much in the quiet moments, the everyday moments as they do in the big ones. They should not be overlooked. So, even though you may not find your divorce courageous, there are things you do each and every day that are. Little things, that create little tremors resonating with others, changing little at a time. Do not overlook these little moments of courage. They matter.

  20. This really made me think. Is survival courage? No…you’re right, it’s not. But when we start with survival and then do MORE with that, make it into something better, THAT is courage. Right? Wrong? Either way, thanks for making me pause and think!

  21. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps — everyday courage, as people have said, and the courage of those you’ve named under extraordinary circumstances. We need both to survive.

  22. There isn’t much I can add that wasn’t already beautifully stated above but I agree that there needs to be a distinction between being a hero and having extreme courage. Leaving a life (as dysfunctional as it may have been) is petrifying. Putting YOUR needs and your daughter’s needs FIRST takes courage.

    It’s not common for people to label themselves as brave because we do what we need to do, what feels right, what gets us through. But let us, your cheerleading team, tell you that you ARE most definitely full of courage.

  23. Nicki

    It IS courageous to leave what may be comfortable for what is unknown. It IS courageous to survive when others may think they way you are living is not really that. It IS courageous to write about it all and put it all out there.

    You are courageous!

  24. Today you do not see survival as courage. But I do and soon you may too. To choose life and happiness over the alternatives, many days that takes courage day in and day out. Hell for some people it just takes courage to get out of bed and face the day. Your mom was not trying to diminish the courageousness of all those amazing and brave people you mention, she was trying to point out that you have done something in your own life that makes you brave and strong, and that is courage in doses.

  25. My opinion – yes, it does take courage to stand tall and carry on – bravery wears many faces – and yours IS one of them.

  26. Courage is different for different people. Anything that someone achieves that is hard for them to handle is courageous. For example: for some people going up and talking to 200 people at a conference would be relatively easy (my partner) for other people (me) that would be the most terrifying experience in the world. If I conquered that fear (NO WAY!) I think that would make me courageous.

  27. Courage is being honest…and all of those other people who save lives and stuff. 😉 Sometimes I feel courageous just making it through the day…so I think there are many different types of courage. And you putting one foot in front of the other after douche-man left you was courageous indeed!!

    Great post!!

    P.S. I’m going to have to check out Momalom…I’m so out of the loop.

  28. Jane, I’m in your cheering section too! It does take courage to leave behind a dysfunctional relationship, go out on your own, and be a single mom. You’ve got what it takes! Courage!

  29. Jane, first of all, you are brave. Because writing posts like these takes amazing amounts of courage. Maybe it was easy for you, but I know for many it is not. Being vulnerable, or exposing a time when you WERE vulnerable, is often the hardest task in writing.

    Secondly…my entire definition of courage hinges on the fact that it is a product of survival. Survival is nothing to scoff at, my dear. We don’t just coast by to get there, to survive. We work at it. Whether with love and support, or in tears everyday for two years. It’s like foraging for food, something done on instinct, sure, but something that we could just as easily not do because we were lazy or destitute.

    That said, Jane, I think you’ll believe me when I tell you that You Are Brave, woman. To start anew is so much harder in the real world, with child.

  30. suzicate

    You are much braver than you think you are. It takes great courage to start over. You found the courage to do what you had to and now look at what an amazing life you have! Many women would not have been brave enough to start over.

  31. I remember those feelings, post-divorce, and I think you are selling yourself short.

    Bravery is what you’ve described in others – doing what must be done even though you are afraid, because it SHOULD be done.

    Courage is what you did – it’s a quiet, abiding act of doing what MUST be done, because the only other choice is to curl up and cease being.

  32. Motherese wrote about the small courages in life for the same subject. Reading both of your posts at the same time was an interesting experience. But I have to say I agree with her more on this one: any time we do something that goes against our grains, forces us to leave our comfort zones, we are being a little bit more courageous than we have been.

  33. “Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.”~ Raymond Lindquist

    I believe this says it. It’s not only in the heroic or the grand, but also in the daily changes that we are forced to face. You should be commended and be proud you faced the challenge and rose to it and are continuing on.

    That, my dear is Courage.

    Martha (aka Finding Ann Mac Gregor)

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