…how big your brave is…

The words of the song “Brave” have been playing through my mind this afternoon.  I haven’t visited with you for a while because I’ve been trying to find my “brave”.

I won’t lie; it has been a tough few weeks.  The reasons are private as they involve young children – what I want to write about is how I’ve coped, how I’ve found my “brave” to be able to face what I have to face.

First, there was the soft-sand beach run.  Melbourne has been putting on quite a winter for us, with every single run requiring some sort of bravery.  Last Thursday at 3:20 pm, just as I was about to set off, I noticed the blackest of clouds out my window.  I knew what they meant; I’d seen the weather.  Rain, hail, high winds.  I had a plan – 20 minutes of hill reps, followed by 25 minutes of soft-sand running.  I figured I had a narrow window before the heavens opened.

I was wrong – they opened about one block from home.    So what, I said to myself.  It’s rained every single time I’ve done hill reps.  The wind picked up.  Gusty, branch-dropping, tree-falling sort of wind.  I began on the gum-tree side of the street, switching to the side with smaller trees periodically.  The rain poured; the wind lashed me.  I watched the big trees cautiously, ready to duck and weave if they dropped a branch or themselves.  I ran up and down and up and down.  Eight reps.  The rain grew, if anything, heavier.  But the wind was the real enemy.  I ran to the beach.

There, the bay had been whipped into furious white waves.  They threw themselves over the sea wall.  They pelted me as I ran along the path.  The sideways rain drenched me.  I began to laugh.

No one was there but me.  I entered the beach, began my soft-sand run.  Rain and howling wind, but nothing to be blown or dropped on me, so I felt safe.  The sea was half-way up Hampton Beach, the widest beach I’ve ever known had been reduced to maybe four-feet across.  I ran, my feet sinking into the sand.  Crossed the rocks onto the Brighton side of the beach, where the sand was thicker.  I stopped for a moment to watch huge waves crash into the sea wall, froth and foam in the air.  I wondered how the sea wall could survive such an onslaught.

I made one lap that took fifteen minutes; I’d planned two, but was so cold and wet, that even I realised there was a virtue in being flexible, so I counted the ten minutes I had to run home as part of the soft-sand run.  A kite-surfer appeared just as I was leaving the beach, the first person I saw in that hour.  We grinned at each other, and I felt more alive than I had all week.

The second brave came on Saturday.  I’d had to miss my favorite Dandenongs run on Friday, due to hail, high tree-knocking-down winds, and thunderstorms, so had saved it up for Saturday.

Saturday was cold, blue-skyed, light breezes.  In short, glorious.  The dusting of snow from the day before had melted and all around me were extra streams, glimmers of water, life returning with the promise of spring.  The golden wattle was in bloom, with its signature scent that says home to me.

I was playing “attack the hills”, a fun game designed by my running coach, where you run up the hills at 80%, then the last twenty-five meters, you bolt up at 100% and then keep running.  I ran up hills I had never managed to run up before in two years of trying, and was delighted and exhausted, and elated.  I saw no one for two hours, until I came to the final three kilometer downhill.

There at the top, was a lone mountain biker staring out at the view.  He seemed deep in thought, so I remained silent as I ran by.  I remember thinking it was cool that we were both there, sharing this wondrous place.

The downhill was steep, gravelly, slippery, but I was focused on short steps, not committing too much to any one step, and feeling faster and more confident as a result.  I’d finished a couple of sections when I heard crashing far behind me.  It was subtle at first, and I thought it was either a wallaby or the mountain biker.  I was focused on my footing and waited a moment to turn, ready to clear the trail.

When I turned, I was stunned.  The mountain biker was flying towards me, all of three feet away.  I’d already begun moving to the right.  In the split-second it took to see him, I heard him begin shouting but didn’t have time to make out what he was saying.  It was all said too late and he was coming way too fast and we were going to collide.  We both reacted instantly, me shifting slightly to the left, him arcing around me in a terrifying slide to the right.

He came so close to ending me.  So close to ending both of us.  But he missed me with the final slide and continued slaloming down the hill, never once braking, shouting over his shoulder, “F…ing idiot!!” which scared me more than anything, but still I shouted back, “Yes, you are!!”

Of course, moments later, shaking, I realised that a woman alone in the woods near dusk should probably not shout out things like that to a lone man on a mountain bike.  So I spent the next few kilometers watching his bike trail in the mud, waiting for him to jump out of the bushes and bash me.  He didn’t.

Still, I was angry, and terror-stricken at how vulnerable I suddenly felt, at how quickly the joy of running could have been sucked from me.  But it wasn’t.  That’s what I kept saying to myself on the way down, it didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen.

Third and final brave:  last night we went out for our 19th wedding anniversary to Chapel Street, South Yarra, home of the trendy and well-dressed.  I’m an Icebreaker and wool jumper sort of gal, so I was already feeling a bit out of place.  But we chose the trendiest of pasta places, one we’d visited maybe 12 years ago, on a last night out prior to leaving Australia to move to Hong Kong.  This restaurant held precious memories, and though we hadn’t booked, it was a cold winter night in Melbourne on a Monday.  It felt like the right place to go.

I went first, to face the Maitre d’.  I stood up to my tallest 161 cm, feeling my red three-quarter length jacket hug me, and tried to project my best Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Are we too late for dinner?” I said, smoothly (ha!).

“No, Signora,” the boy young enough to be my son said.  He had great teeth. White and straight.  “Do you have a reservation?”

“No,” I said sadly (still aiming for Audrey).

He looked around.  Then he smiled, and pointed to the best table in the entire restaurant right up the front.

“May I take your coat?” he said.

He took our coats, sat us down, and I felt like a cool New York woman again, I’d done this, got us this great table.

Except the next waiter – let’s call him Owl Man – he did not have a good smile.  He looked at me like a freak of nature with his head turned to the side (hence, Owl Man), couldn’t understand my wine order (which I stumbled over because he made me forget how to speak), and when he brought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc instead of Cabernet Sauvignon I panicked and said, yes, that’s right, and it took my husband to notice that, no, this was certainly not what I ordered.  I felt a fool, but he must have felt a fool too, because after he got the right bottle, he proceeded to drip it in my water glass and onto the table as he poured.  And he never once commented on it.

From that moment, I was afraid of Owl Man.  He had seen through my Audrey Hepburn.  When he came to describe the specials, he began by saying they had a bruschetta (“Do you know what that is?” he said, his head cocked to the side, eyeing me as if I were ten, or a complete buffoon); we have a penne (long tubes of pasta, he said).  By this point, I’d gotten the giggles and could not look up at him.  I had to pull the hair at the base of my skull to stop the laughter that threatened to over-run me.

He finally went away, and the gorgeous boy with the straight teeth served us from there on.  The food was beautiful but I was never able to summon my inner Audrey back.

So three braves in the face of a couple of extremely challenging weeks.  Facing the storm at the beach; saving myself from the killer mountain biker; and entering a Chapel Street restaurant without a reservation.

It helps to find these moments of brave to face up to the rest of life.  Then I can look back and say, if I did that, surely I can face this…

And that’s really what it’s all about.  Finding those brave moments to teach us that we are, in fact, brave.  Brave enough.


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