So there I was, minding my own business when a friend in London told me a story she had just heard. An Englishwoman named Eileen Nearne was buried on September 21 in the little English seaside town of Torquay. She had lived a hermits life: no husband, no children, not much contact with the outside world. She was known to her neighbors as “a cat lover.”
But when the authorities discovered her body in her flat, they also discovered something unbelievable: this unassuming woman had been a British spy during WWII, having been captured and tortured multiple times, escaping after each. She was decorated with the highest British and French medals, also found in her flat.
Another woman of courage. Hmmm … could this be the beginning of the next book?
France was wonderful – now sampling England! We had dinner with some friends in London tonight. I was discussing my new book with my friend Patricia, chatting about the differences between men’s and women’s courage, and she brought up some very interesting, and very British, stories.
She remarked how difficult it must have been to be a women during the Elizabethan and Victorian eras. Women were given all the responsibility and none of the authority,. Her grandmother, for example, was left by her husband, who took everything they had. Her grandmother had to support herself and her three children, but had no skills, and therefore had to take the jobs men didn’t want with long hours. Not a good situation with children, so she was forced to send her children off to live with relatives. She subsidized their upbringing, but the children came to view the relatives more as mother than their real mother.
Patricia’s grandmother eventually remarried and had other children. Amazingly, the two families didn’t even know the other existed, until Patricia’s aunt did some research and found them. What she found broke her heart – the first group of children harbored great ill will against their mother for “abandoning” them. They apparently never considered the courage their mother had to make the decisions she did. It’s the “different kind of courage” and the quiet courage that frequently goes unnoticed.
One of the most moving things to visit in France is the Normandy beaches. We have all seen and heard stories of the Allied landings here during World War II, but actually walking on sand and soil where the battles raged touches me to my soul.
My husband reminded me that while those living and working in the Louvre endured a great deal, he was just as moved looking down at the ground we covered today. The men who fought and the women who waited at home forever changed the world. Their courage is humbling.
We toured the Louvre Museum in Paris today and whenever I do that (which I’ve had the good fortune to do many times), I always look at the floor. The wood in the Grand Gallery is worn smooth and the stone on the stairs and in the pavilions show the signs of the millions of feet that have traveled them. Not just from tourists, but, as the Louvre was a palace for hundreds of years before it was a museum, from all the kings and queens, courtesans and servants before them.
Regardless of your station in life during those centuries (the 12th through the 19th), it was a difficult time to be a woman. They didn’t carry weapons or fight over countries. But they often died from childbirth and its complications. Or they became widows as the result of battles, duels and crime. And they lived daily with less than sanitary conditions. They were women who defined the different kind of courage we possess.
I’ve been writing and speaking about courage for some time now. And except for the research I did on Virginia Hall’s life (one of the most courageous women I ever heard about), all of my writing and speaking have been done in the United States. Today, that all changes. I am on my way to England and France for a 22 day excursion. And while the original purpose was to visit my son and his family who live in England, the opportunity to talk courage with women abroad really has me jazzed.
Do we all think of courage the same way? Does our interpretation of courage depend on where we live? Or how we were raised? Or what language we speak? Stay tuned as Courage Concepts goes global!
“To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
Hmmm … let’s think about this. There we are, bopping along in our own little worlds, thinking no one is paying any attention to most things we do. But according to this quote, someone could always be watching us. Josephine Billings was a prominent volunteer in New York City in the realm of not-for-profit health care and hospitals for six decades. Guess she would know a thing or two about this.
Setting a good example can take courage, especially if you have to go out of your comfort zone to do it. But this quote kinda gives you a new angle on the whole thing, doesn’t it!
In 1958, Crayola Crayons introduced their 64 crayon collection, complete with a sharpener built in the box. This introduction was so important it was called a “watershed” moment in the history of crayons by the Smithsonian Museum. No longer was children’s creativity restricted to just one shade of blue. We could choose “cadet blue” or “Prussian blue” or “periwinkle.” From that box, we learned new words like “sienna” and “umber” and “sepia.” The potential for masterpiece was limitless and we’ve never looked back.
I think it’s time we started looking at courage the same way with same panoramic vision. Courage is certainly saving a drowning child or pulling a beloved pet from a burning building. But it’s also the woman who escapes an abusive relationship, the teenager who overcomes her fear of public speaking and the octogenarian who receives her college degree.
Just as limitless as the colors in the rainbow, this blog is dedicated to all the shades of courage. You’ll read about courageous women from history, websites dedicated to ongoing projects of courage, and tidbits of the interviews I’m conducting for my new book, A Different Kind of Courage.
I’m counting on your thoughts and opinions too. A blog is nothing if it doesn’t inspire commentary and discussion. Please feel free to add a few words or a page full.
Courage isn’t just black and white. Like the color wheel, it’s an infinite number of shades. Visit us often and share your thoughts and ideas about courage with me!