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“You are SO brave!”
I hear this phrase a lot. Maybe not as much as I used to, but I do hear it, usually relating to the fact that I’m a blind person who works, has a thriving jewelry-making business, and/or gets out of bed in the morning. I don’t think of myself as particularly brave for doing any of these things, and yet many people bestow this attribute on me.
But there was a time in my life where I heard that phrase – “You’re SO Brave!” – a lot more frequently. I hated to hear it, because I thought it was inaccurate, but looking back, maybe not so much.
This morning, I got an email wishing me a happy 13 years of patronage at the Edmonton Public Library.
It seems like so very long ago, when I packed up everything I owned, effectively transplanting enough furniture to fill an entire apartment, and sinking my entire life savings into rent for my apartment’s six-month lease. I did this, moving to a city where I knew a grand total of one person – not well – with no job, no work experience, and nothing but a hope and a prayer that I would get one in the near future.
Thirteen years ago – almost to the day – my friends and I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning, eating junk food and drinking pop (we were straight-laced kids) and playing endless rounds of card games. I remember thinking it was pointless to try and get any sleep, since I had a flight to catch at some horribly early hour. Thirteen years ago – almost to the day – I slept through the entire flight, and my mom had to wake me up so I could get off the plane. My furniture hadn’t arrived at my apartment yet, so Mom and I slept on the floor in sleeping bags and I tried hard not to kick the lamp we bought and set on the floor to provide a little light into my apartment’s dark corners. I had the power turned on, but before I contacted phone and Internet providers, Mom and I took the train to the downtown branch of the Edmonton Public Library. I’m such a bookworm that I had a library card before I had phone, Internet, food, and more clothes than those that fit into my wobbly rolling suitcase.
My furniture took over a week to arrive, so Mom left me alone in that apartment for five or six days, where I slept in the sleeping bag on my living room floor until she arrived again on the same day my furniture appeared.
None of this made me feel particularly brave, and yet, over and over and over again, I heard it. “You’re so brave!”
The one person I knew in Edmonton took me under their wing. I was welcomed into their home and community for holidays, gatherings and a Christmas production where everything went horribly wrong. When they would introduce me as their “friend from Vancouver,” who moved to Edmonton for job prospects, and was building a life here, I heard it.
“You’re so brave.”
Months went by where I lived on very little. My parents helped me out when they could, but I lived on a lot of noodles and the kindness of neighbors and newfound friends – some of whom would invite me over for dinner or bring me oranges from their grocery shopping trip. The first job I got was a part-time gig, but it enabled me to renew my apartment’s lease for a year, spring for the occasional pizza, and explore other opportunities (some of which fell flat on their face). Some months I barely made rent – one memorable month I supplemented my income by making balloon animals at a downtown Canada Day festivity. I paid my rent at 10:00 PM on July 1 and lived on heaven-knows-what until I got myself another job later in the month.
Many friends and family back home – and new acquaintances and friends in Edmonton – told me I was so brave for doing all this, but for me it was a matter of emotional survival. The more I heard it – “You’re SO brave!” – the more I wanted to scream. To me, it was about simple mathematics: cheap rent plus job opportunities equals hope. Living at home minus career opportunities equals despair. To me, at age twenty, bravery had nothing to do with anything; to me, I couldn’t just keep doing the same thing over and over and over again an expect different results, so I made a change.
A big change.
A brave change.
Over the last thirteen years, I’ve borrowed hundreds – no, thousands – of books in various formats from the library. I’ve worked an amazing amount of jobs and gone through stretches of unemployment. I’ve married, bought a home, built a life.
And you know what?
I was brave.
But I’m glad I didn’t see myself that way all those years ago. Because if I had, I might have talked myself out of it in the first place. Or held myself up as some inspirational figure. Or denied myself some opportunities because they were “beneath me.”
To me, all those years ago, I did what needed to be done, and in hindsight, I did something brave.
Even now, as I’ve explored new career paths, begun planning an amazing trip, I don’t see myself as brave. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe in the moment, we shouldn’t see our spontaneous or daring actions as “brave.” Maybe, the next time someone comes up to me and tells me I’m brave for getting out there and living my life with blindness, I’ll remember this time in my life, smile at them, and say thank you.
Because they would not be entirely wrong.

What about you? What has made you brave? What has stopped you from doing something possibly scary but that you know will make you grow? What will light that spark in you?