I turn 32 in a couple of weeks and I thought I’d be much more fearless at this point than I am. Maybe I’ll lose some man-points for admitting this but it’s true. For a while I was under the impression that fear was just a hitchhiker riding along during my twenties, waiting to be dropped off at thirty. Not so. Fear’s still journeying right alongside me and it seems intent on sticking around. I think fear might be a theme universal to all human stories. We are smaller than we like to think and it’s a scary thing navigating our way through this giant world. Mostly, I am fearful about my future. While spending my late teens and early twenties trying to “find myself”, I understood my future as a static reality to be captured the moment I figured out exactly how to get my hands on it. I viewed it as a fixed destination, awaiting my grand arrival. The truth is, all of our futures are carrots on sticks leading us on, seducing us with promises of grandeur and achievement. But our futures move right along with us. They dangle there in front of us at all times, just beyond our grasp. They exist on the pendulum of time, teasing us with their occasional swings toward us, only to swing away from our desperate reach. And all the while, we fear we’ll never grab hold with any sense of finality or accomplishment.
But I am hopeful. I am hopeful because, while fear will always be a part of life and my future will always remain just a step ahead of me, I have also discovered the remedy: courage. Courage doesn’t rid us of fear but it can propel us past it. Nelson Mandela once said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Courage is often difficult to bear. It’s heavy and its weight can become wearisome. But courage is weighty because of its power to overcome and it is well worth carrying at all times.
On June 11, 1963, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Malcolm Browne captured one of the most enduring and haunting photographs of all time. During a peaceful protest against the government regime’s persecution of Buddhists, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc sat in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon and, surrounded by his fellow monks, onlookers, and police, proceeded to burn himself alive. Browne’s photograph of Duc’s self-immolation has become one of the iconic works in photojournalism history. You can google the image if you’d like but please know, it’s very graphic. Thich Quang Duc’s act, as extreme as it was, reminds me of the strength of the human spirit. Regardless of your personal, political, or religious opinion, there is no denying this man’s commitment and conviction. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to live life with that sort of singularity. I found myself staring at the photograph today, pondering what sort of world this would be if more of us could give ourselves to a single thing the way this man gave himself to his cause. How many dreams could we realize and how many hopes could we fulfill if we’d live with the sort of courage that would compel a man to step willingly into the fire himself for the sake of freeing others?
Nobody is fearless. That’s a lie, a facade, a charade put on by insecure people too afraid to let others know that they’re afraid. Fearless people don’t exist; only courageous ones. And courage has the power to lift us toward something greater than all the rest: love. And in love, there is no fear. Love is fearless. 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.” The most courageous thing we could ever do is love. To love is to step into the fire for another and to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return. To love is to protect and cherish, even as we ourselves are in harm’s way.
So today, live courageously. When fear surrounds you, step boldly into the fire, give your entire being to something greater than self, and jump headfirst into the reality that courage is the remedy and love is the only fearless thing on earth.