One summer when our oldest son Paul was ten and Peter, our middle son, was four, we went to King’s Island Amusement Park north of Cincinnati. Because of the big difference in our sons’ ages, we tended to split up, with Marc taking Paul on the regular rides while Peter and I went to the kiddie park. This particular day, though, Peter wanted to ditch the kiddie park and go on the big rides like his brother. After launching a major and quite persistent campaign, I finally relented and we went on the Racer, a good-sized if not monster roller coaster.
Peter didn’t have second thoughts until we were all strapped in.
“I think we need to get off, Mommy,” he said in hushed tones. No sooner had he said it that the coaster started to move.
“It’s too late, Peter,” I said. “Just hang on and have fun!” I put my arm around him firmly.
On the first rush down a hill, Peter’s mouth opened in horror, but nothing came out. I continued to hold him, which of course was uncomfortable with all the jostling, but I wanted to do something to comfort him and he seemed to need it. His mouth never closed once during the entire ride. When it was finally over and we came to a rolling stop, he took another big breath in, and I knew he was going to begin screaming.
“Peter,” I said, drawing out his name. “You were so brave.” My voice was filled with awe. He looked at me.
“I was brave?” he asked in a little voice. I nodded.
“I was brave!” he said loudly. We saw Marc and Paul walking towards us, and Peter went running to meet them with his chest puffed out proudly.
“I was brave, Daddy! I was brave, Paul!” It was a wonderful moment—and Peter has loved roller coasters ever since.
Well, a couple decades later, I am not brave at all. I had a bit of a meltdown last night at the dinner table. I told Marc how mad I was that I had broken my foot just by standing up.
“I didn’t choose this,” I cried. “I chose to be strong. I made a decision to be strong. And now I’m exhausted and I can’t do much of anything.”
I woke up this morning to find that Gracie had been sick overnight and was quite the smelly mess. I cleaned out her crate and then I had to carry her upstairs for a much-needed bath. I hadn’t even had my breakfast yet, and already I was tired.
“I think I just got exercise for the day,” I thought to myself. “No need to go downstairs and try to exercise.” I heard that thought, I felt the truth of it. Then I thought back to my words last night. I made a decision to be strong. Didn’t I need to still keep making that decision? Didn’t I need to be brave and work out an exercise plan I could do and would do while my foot was healing?
Of course, the answer was yes. Even if I wasn’t feeling particularly brave, or particularly strong, I could fake it.
So, I went downstairs and went through all my strengthening exercises I do—core and legs alternating with core and arms. I came up with a combination of nine of those exercises that I would be able to do even with a foot in an air cast—and I started doing them.
It was hard. My leg kept cramping on me and I had to stop several times. Halfway through my first repetition, I thought that perhaps I would only do one set of the nine exercises. After all, I was injured. Wasn’t that enough?
No. I chose to be strong and I need to fake being brave. So, when I finished the nine exercises I did them all again, twelve times each—and then I did a third repetition because that’s what I am supposed to do.
It made a difference. It was hard and it was surprising that I has lost some strength even after just a week, but I did it. Today I decided to be strong and I pretended to be brave.
Bad things happen all the time—and a lot of bad things are happening right now. Certainly, that is true in my life, and I’ll bet it’s true in yours as well. There is so much we can’t control, but we can decide how we’re going to behave. We can decide to be brave—even when we’re not.