“Should we go to the park tomorrow?
Not a question I should ask at bedtime, but I couldn’t resist. Plum was tucked up in bed, a very sleepy-eyed, recently-turned-four-year-old, all cosy and worn out after a full day. Of course he said yes, and I should have left it at that. But I didn’t.
“And will we go on the swings?”
His face split open with delight. “Yes, please!”
This was the grin I’ve been waiting for. This afternoon, it felt like everything changed. Our little Plum has never liked the swings. It wasn’t about heights or the wobble factor – he’ll race up ladders and gallop over swinging rope bridges – but as soon as he’s on a swing, fear descends and the fun is over. He tries. He even asks me to lift him up and I watch him clutch the chains and screw up his courage, but it always ends the same way, with me sitting on the ground in front of him on the swing and holding his hands as he, shaking, miserable and determined, tries his best to understand why this is supposed to be fun.
It was a spontaneous park visit. A friend called, wanting to know if she could stop by to return a cookie tin. After lunch, we decamped to the park with her two toddlers and my three bigger kids. Her eldest (2.9) got my eldest (11.1) organised on the swings, and maybe Plum was curious, because he followed them. I watched. Then he asked me to put him on the swing. We started slowly with the smallest possible push. And, unlike every other time, it worked. He wanted more. Just a little, and with me keeping close. Then he asked again for another push, and another. He reached out his hands for me, but his mouth was wide and smiling. Again!
We both were laughing now, caught up in this bright new thing. Again! And again! And today, on the other side of courage, there was joy.
Up in bed now, he kicked out his legs and rumpled the sheet. I tucked him in again while he explained that the reason he could swing now was that he was four. And that now he would swing every day. And he wouldn’t be scared of the Superworm book anymore. And he would read Superworm every day. Forever. In a swing.
Walk in the dark
I wish courage always worked like this. That where courage was needed, this bright joy would follow.
But it isn’t like that. Sometimes, we need courage just to endure. Or to change in unknowable ways. Or to let go. We learn this in our families and in our aging congregations. We learn it in the lines on each other’s faces. And all prophets and poets teach us to walk in the dark.
Last summer, Gord Downie showed us the courage needed to sing through tears. As he sang out in that final Tragically Hip concert in Kingston, so much of the country listened with full hearts. I think we were trying to celebrate, but maybe hoping, too, to learn something. Here was a man facing his own death and he stood courageous for us, showing us how to live this mad and beautiful life as a gift given for others. His courage made us all feel like family. Connected and close.
Maybe that’s how courage works. Maybe it isn’t a solitary virtue but something we build together. Through gentle pushes and perseverance, and just being there to raise each other up, we make spaces where courage can grow and be seen. Courage encourages and we are all strengthened.
I want to end this with an assurance that joy comes. I believe it must. That joy will find us, meet us and catch us in the end. But you can’t set your watch on that. You can’t know when joy will come. Joy catches us by surprise. Like a thief in the night, you might say. Or like a surprising day on the swings. It takes our breath away. And until then, we continue with courage.
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