I don’t know anyone who is fearless. Fear is a necessary emotion that has evolved to increase our chances of survival. It warns us of dangerous threats in the form of people, animals, and other situations that may cause us pain or harm. I see a lot of fear on social media—people who want to close the borders to those who don’t speak, look, or worship as they do. It is understandable—the border-closing supporters are afraid. We all are.
Except a life lived in fear is no life at all. In 1945, the state of New Hampshire adopted the motto, “Live Free or Die.” I used to think it was a bit aggressive but in this time where people are very much threatening our freedom to live our lives in peace, that succinct motto is appropriate. It is very easy for the fear of the unknown to rule your life. To make you a prisoner in your own home. No, instead we must be brave and continue to live a life of freedom, peace, and love. We can choose to be afraid, or we can choose to be brave.
Bravery is not the absence of fear, but continuing forward despite that fear.
Bravery is standing up for morals and beliefs, confronting those fears and emerging victorious over them. In this time when people are spreading fear in numerous ways, we must choose to be brave.
Terrorism thrives on fear—that is how it grows. The initial response to terrorism is to flee and to hide where it is safe. Except there is nowhere that is truly safe. It is during times like these that I attempt to use statistics to hinder my irrational fears. Statistically, I am more likely to die by a lightning bolt than in a terrorist attack. (My father has been struck by lightning and lived to tell the tale, so maybe I should stand next to him to be even safer.)
The French people have responded to the terrorist attacks on their soil in defiance by encouraging each other to eat, drink, and be merry. The hashtag on Twitter, #JeSuisAuTerrasse—I’m on the patio—is a deliberate message that the French people aren’t cowering in fear locked up in their homes. They are displaying bravery at its finest.
When I was a child, my mom used to repeat the mantra, “Be brave, little toaster,” in reference to a children’s movie , The Brave Little Toaster, I had seen earlier. The movie plot is not important but basically, my mom adopted and repeated the mantra, “Be brave, little toaster,” and said it to me every time I was too afraid to do something. Too afraid to jump off of the high dive, too scared to ride on a roller coaster, or too afraid to plunge into the icy cold Atlantic Ocean. Anytime I was allowing my fears to hinder my experiences, she would reassure me that I could be brave—it was my choice to make. I could not do whatever it was that was scary, or be brave and maybe even have some fun. Even as an adult, I can hear her voice in my head, reminding me that overcoming my fears can lead to wonderful things in life.
In 2001, I was a freshman at a Florida university for merely three weeks before the attacks on September 11th shocked our nation. My parents lived in upstate NY, a two-hour plane ride away, and after confirming everyone was safe, I sobbingly pleaded with my mom to let me come home. I was newly living on my own as a freshly minted 18-year-old adult, and my parents’ house was the only place I wanted to be. My roommate had a car, and we had a plan already worked out. We would drive from Florida to New York. I could be home—safe—in just 25 hours. My classmates were all making similar arrangements. Everyone was afraid, and nobody knew what was happening. We had just witnessed the most devastating act of terrorism our nation had ever experienced.
Over the noise of my crying, I heard my mother calmly say to me, “No, you cannot come home. You have to stay at school. Your job is to become educated, get a good job, and make the world a better place. You are already where you need to be.”
Only now that I am a mother can I truly understand how difficult it must have been for her to say those words to me. How I am sure she must have wanted me home just as badly as I wanted to come home. She was afraid, but she was brave. I can only hope to be the same beacon of courage for my own children. I am sure she hung up the phone with me and cried thinking about her baby girl thousands of miles out of her protective reach. That same fear resonates through my bones as I leave my children every day at school, far out of my protective reach, as we carry on with our daily lives. The truth is that we don’t know what the future holds, terrorism or not. Be brave, little toaster.
Currently, I am geographically the same distance away from the attacks on Paris as I was the attacks on September 11th in NYC—a quick two-hour plane ride away. Thankfully, far enough not to witness it with my own eyes, but close enough for it to impact my friends and our daily lives. These terrorist attacks will threaten the open borders of Europe and continue to provoke fears of the unknown. Fear breeds hatred, hatred leads to more violence, and the cycle will continue if we allow it.
At this moment in time, when our morals and beliefs are challenged, we must stand for what we know to be right regardless of our fears. We must live our beautiful lives with freedom, love, and compassion. My mother did not let me succumb to my fears during a very crucial time in my life. Consequently, I refuse to succumb to them again. We must be brave. It is the only way forward.
Being abroad has made raising a family harder at times, and at other times, easier. Raising my children to be unafraid of all of the evils of the world is an impossible goal. Instead, I will teach them courage and what it means to live a life of freedom.
Be brave, little toaster. Be brave.