Being Brave

The other night, McKenzie and I read a story about a man who reached the summit of Mt. Everest in 2001. We read about the dangers of such a climb: the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, avalanches, falling rocks, lack of oxygen, severe health risks like embolisms, and ultimately death.


I pulled the blanket closer and shivered, thinking about how much I hate being cold, certain I could never achieve such a feat, and more certain that I wouldn’t want to.

We then learned that this man accomplished all of this in spite of being blind.

We stopped reading for a minute and just looked at each other. McKenzie touched the book and looked at me with wide eyes. “Wait. What?” she asked. “How does a blind person climb Mount Everest?”

I shrugged my shoulders, unable to explain such an accomplishment. We learned his name was Erik Weienmayer and  he started to lose his sight at age 13 from retinoschesis. His story is quite incredible and you can read more about it here.

In spite of such a devastating diagnosis,Erik pushed himself to learn Braille, walk without a cane, and participate in any activity that he wanted. When he was 16, he discovered a natural gift for rock climbing. I found myself wondering if he would have ever discovered this skill if he had not lost his sight, but that pondering will have to wait for another day.

Erik has changed lives because of his willingness to embrace his disability and continue to live fully. He started an organization called No Barriers where the mission is “to help people with challenges, all of us to some extent, to turn into the storm of life, face barriers head on, embrace a pioneering and innovative spirit and team up with great people to live rich in meaning and purpose.”

I love stories like this, but I often make them all about me and wonder what the heck my problem is. I have full vision, I have my health, I am reading this story in a warm, cozy bed with my daughter, surrounded by extra blankets. We just ate a lovely dinner and at the end of the day, there isn’t much I can legitimately complain about. And yet, I wonder if anything about my life shows a glimpse of Erik Weihenmayer’s courage.

I tend to think that my life has to look like Erik Weihenmayer’s life to be considered brave. I tell myself that because I haven’t reached the summit of Mount Everest, or survived cancer, or jumped in front of a moving car to save someone’s life, I must not be brave.

In the quiet though, I hear a small voice whispering that bravery isn’t just about doing the most adventurous feats or surviving the un-survivable. It isn’t just the stories you read in People magazine or US Weekly or the stories everyone reposts on Facebook that get a million likes.

Sometimes the bravest people are the ones who continue to show up, love well, and embrace moments of life that no one else ever knows about. Sometimes bravery is about commitment and faith and loving others well, even when it is difficult and you’re tired and the situation doesn’t seem to show signs of changing anytime soon. I thought about people I love who live like this all the time.

Recently, on Annie Downs’s blog, I read about her new book, Let’s All Be Brave. She also started a project called #thatisbrave and told her readers, “When you see brave, say so!” I immediately wrote about one brave friend and quickly submitted it to Annie for her project. I think Annie agreed because she posted it this week on her blog.  Hope you might take a minute to read about my brave friend. I am grateful for all the ways I benefit from her bravery. You can read more by clicking here.

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