While the question was indeed simple, the place it touched in me wasn't---it was much more complex than I could have imagined. My response really wasn't a statement, it was a series of rhetorical questions instead:
I'm being brave about adoption and working to put infertility behind me. That's brave, right? Taking each day as it comes, making the most of an awful situation...that's brave, right?
Looking at what I said got me thinking; it was as though I was afraid to actually proclaim that I am, in fact, brave. That's probably because I don't necessarily believe I am. Bravery, it seems, is a funny thing. We often hesitate to proclaim that we are brave because it sounds like we're being selfish or self-serving in some way. We say "I think I am" or "I suppose that was" when we refer to bravery. Most people that we label as heroes--the ones that do something truly brave in the face of a catastrophe--often say that they were just doing the right thing or that anyone else would have done the same, if given the opportunity. Most of the time, we are brave because someone tells us we are, not because we are the first to jump up and give ourselves that title.
When people tell me that I'm brave or strong or even resilient, I'm touched--but I know deep in my soul that they think that because they don't see my weakest moments. They see my words about living with the pain or our decision to adopt, but they don't see me crying while I fold the laundry for no reason other than I feel really sorry for myself. And I wouldn't dare let them catch a glimpse of the horror I feel each night when I stifle down a glass of water with the horrible hormone pills that make me feel (and act) awful, in an attempt to fix my broken body. In those moments, I feel far from brave.
Perhaps bravery is earned by simply surviving. Is there a difference between surviving and bravery? Is bravery a requirement for survival? Does surviving a painful ordeal and coming out on the other end, still standing and functioning in your life, automatically earn you the title of bravery? I lived through it. I worked through it and came out on the other end, still looking the same as I did two years ago--my outside has not changed. If something trying, something that has the potential to break you, leaves you looking about the same on the outside, can anyone see the broken parts that make you feel less than brave on the inside? Or, is being brave about being smart enough to cover up the cracks so they are no longer visible?
Perhaps bravery is more subjective than that. Often people think you're brave because you did something or lived through something they couldn't imagine doing themselves--but that's because they were never faced with the opportunity. They wouldn't be any less brave, or any less hurt by a heartbreaking experience; they wouldn't do anything differently. Maybe doing something that by all appearances seems too hard to handle themselves, is brave just because it seems unfathomable. "I know I couldn't do it," the person who says you're brave tells themselves. But, could they?
My answer is always yes. You could do it, too. You could do anything, really. This experience doesn't make me any braver or stronger than anyone else. The choices I (we) have made, the path we have chosen---it's all relative. In the face of all the things in this world that we fear--loss, heartbreak, pain--I didn't do anything special. I just survived. I kept going. I made up the rules as I went. I made the choices that felt right and if those choices make me look brave, then that's great. But I didn't make them because I wanted to be brave, or stoic---I made them because it was what my heart told me to do. Is that brave?