Why ‘brave-making’ is important

Cancer is a bully and a thief. It pushed my husband, Gary, and me around for a while and stole a good deal of our courage.

Marlys Johnson

In time, though, we determined to step out into unknown, scary places. We took up hiking and snow-showing in our middle years. We applied to become a non-profit, wrote for grant funding, and shared our proactive cancer message to a variety of audiences in all regions of the country.

And then widowhood became my new mantle and claimed what little bit of bravery I had left.

Here’s what I eventually learned:

  1. Courage doesn’t magically re-materialize by itself.
  2. I have to practice brave-making; it’s not a once-and-done thing.

Back on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Gary and I took an Alaskan cruise. In our anniversary month this year, I booked a cruise – alone – to the last frontier as a brave-making venture.

Brave-making is my term for fighting the urge to wrap the security blanket of my routine around me, with stacks of books and pots of tea nearby. Brave-making is doing things alone that I’d only ever done with Gary.

Hence, the solo trip to Alaska.

The highlights of this particular adventure are what you would expect: Canoeing across a lake to view Hubbard Glacier up close and personal. A catamaran into Sitka Sound to spot otters and eagles, and chance upon eight or nine whales showing off their acrobatic skills. Steaming into Hubbard Glacier Bay to observe the calving. A brawny lumberjack show. The beauty and history of Victoria.

But there was an unexpected highlight for me.

For my first dinner onboard ship, I opted to eat alone. But the next day, there was a scheduled lunch for “solo travelers,” which I’m guessing is a nice way of saying, “People with no friends onboard.”

Why not? I thought.

And after that lunch I was hooked. I wanted to eat the rest of my meals with as many different people as possible. And I wanted to hear their stories: What was your favorite place in the world to visit? How did you two meet and fall in love? Where would you like to travel next?

I recently came across this thought from H. Jackson Brown, Jr.: “Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.”

This describes me. My husband’s cancer, and eventually widowhood, stole my audacity.

And so I have to practice being brave. I have to pretend I have courage until … well, until I actually have courage.

Because this is the kind of heart I wanted as a cancer caregiver and now as a widow: Audacious and unruly with holy resoluteness in order to make a difference in my corner of the world.

Which begs the question: What have you done lately that made you more courageous? I’d love to hear about your brave-making ventures.

Marlys was the caregiver of her husband Gary who lived ten years after being diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer. After his diagnosis, together they founded a non-profit called Cancer Adventures, sharing their story with groups across the country. After Gary’s death in 2014, Marlys has continued to share the underlying theme of her and her husband’s story: How challenges are a part of life but you have choices. She has a passion for helping people navigate life’s challenges, having negotiated a few herself.

One thought on “Why ‘brave-making’ is important

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Actually, I also lost my father and he was lung cancer fighter. After my father, I realize what’s life means its not about owing big fancy car, house, or bank balance. It’s all about helping others and has patience. God has a plan for everyone.

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