About a year ago, I was invited to a book signing by a friend. I can’t remember what it was that prevented us from going, but we never made it. And I so wish that I had. Because I’ve since gotten to know her, the author, a little through her writings and postings, and I will tell you this: She is brave. She puts herself out there. She risks vulnerability. She shares her story to inspire others.
People, meet the lovely Sarah Kovac…
I cringe a little every time someone calls me brave. Strong. Courageous. An overcomer. Sure, I’ve worked through some difficult stuff, but I’m not sure that makes me any of those things.
I was born with a rare birth defect called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita (AMC). It presents itself in hundreds of different ways, but for me it means that the bones and muscles from the base of my neck to my fingertips are underdeveloped and weak. My arms never have been good for much, so at age two I started using my perfectly capable legs and feet instead. I started picking up crayons and spoons and books with my toes. Was I brave? Nah. I was just a little girl who wanted to color like the other kids. I was a little girl who just didn’t get the memo that I couldn’t.
I headed off to Kindergarten when I was 4. There were so many things I couldn’t do. My classmates often helped me tie my shoes and zip up my coat. I couldn’t raise my hand in class, so my mom taped a plate-sized smiley face to the end of a yard stick. When I knew the answer or needed help, my big smile popped up above the other children’s heads. I fell and broke my non-bending arm 4 times that year, but I learned to roller skate and bike ride anyway.
As time passed, I learned to be more independent. I could put on my own coat, thank-you-very-much. I got my license and started driving to school with my feet as a Senior. Was this foot-driving teen courageous? Nope! Just like every other teen, I craved freedom. I would have it at any cost.
I took trips to Spain and Israel, went to college, lived on campus, switched majors three hundred times, met a boy, fell in love, got married, and had kids. The number of challenges I faced over that time? A lot. But I am a girl who never was told that challenges are bad. No one informed me that struggle is a burden. No one ever let me know that my life had to be something less than everyone else’s. No one told me that people like me don’t get Happily Ever Afters.
I wrote a book. I started freelancing for major media outlets. I began speaking in churches and schools and organizations of all kinds across this beautiful country. I talked about struggle on national TV. On the radio. On the internet.
In fact, at 5 weeks postpartum I flew to Texas and got teary-eyed on TV talking about what Brave means to me. No one ever told me I couldn’t cry on TV or that vulnerability was a weakness.
I just didn’t know. If anything, I have been ignorant; not brave.
Now that I’ve done all this living and have two fabulous kids, a 5 year old boy and a 1 year old girl, “Brave” has taken on an entirely new meaning. If I have ever been brave, it’s as I stand and watch my adventurous preschooler tackle the monkey bars. As I gulp back memories of hearing my own bones crack, I say nothing. I break into a cold sweat and turn my eyes elsewhere. And in that moment, I know what Brave means.
Brave was the mother who rushed me to the emergency room over and over, and then tied my roller skates on me for the first time.
Brave was the father who sat in the passenger seat while I tried to figure out which leg to steer with.
Brave was the man who joined his life to mine. Who leaves his children in my care. Who wants to grow old with me.
These people around me… they’ve never told me I can’t hold a newborn or travel alone or dice tomatoes or type an entire book with my toes. Maybe they have those thoughts. Maybe sometimes my “overcoming” scares them. Maybe they wish I’d play it safer. I don’t know, because they would never tell me. I don’t know, because they are brave.
And their bravery makes me better. I’m learning to swallow my fear and let my kids live, because I’ve seen it done for 30 years. I’m learning how to let someone find their own way, even if it’s slow. Even if it doesn’t make sense to me. Even when I have The Best Answer. I’m learning that not everyone wants to be saved from struggle. And I know beyond any doubt that struggle makes us better.
I’ve seen what Brave is. I’ve seen what Brave does. And so often, the brave thing is to do nothing. To say nothing. To refuse to rescue or fix.
Some people call me brave, but now you know the truth. I just never got the memo that I was less-than. The brave ones threw it into the shredder.
Sarah Kovac is a “disabled” wife, mother, award-winning author, speaker, and freelance journalist. She spends her summers camping and kayaking with her family, and she spends her winters waiting for summer. Sarah and her family reside near Kansas City, Missouri.
http://sarahkovac.com; @sarahkovac; youtube.com/sarahselah; facebook.com/sarahmkovac