“Brave,” a song sung by Sara Bareilles, has been getting lots of airtime on my iPod these days. The song just lifts me up.
And it begs to be played loud. “Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out,” she sings. “Honestly, I wanna see you be brave…maybe one of these days you can let the light in.”
Written by Bareilles and Jack Antonoff, “Brave” was inspired by Bareilles’ close friend coming out of the closet, and it’s also become an anthem for patients battling life-threatening illness. (Check out the online video of Joshua, a 4-year-old cancer patient, singing the tune alongside Bareilles.)
But the song has a broader message for all of us, no matter what struggle we’re facing in the moment.
There’s no quality I admire more than courage, possessing the chutzpah to stand up for what you believe in, no matter how much external forces and momentum try to sway you otherwise. I think of the times I’ve tried to muster my own courage—where I’ve made the tougher choice, or stood up for what wasn’t necessarily popular. It’s in those instances where I’ve grown the most, morphed into a stronger version of me.
This month, we’ll observe Purim, one of the most joyous holidays on the Jewish calendar. The story, told in the Book of Esther, celebrates the courage of Queen Esther risking her life by telling the king about Haman’s plot to kill the Jews of Persia.
Throughout modern Jewish history, we’ve witnessed the courage of Jews taking big risks in the face of peril—people like Golda Meir, Elie Wiesel, and Natan Sharansky.
Hannah Szenesh, too, defined courage. One of 37 Jewish paratroopers from Mandatory Palestine, she rescued Hungarian Jews during World War II. She was later arrested at the Hungarian border, imprisoned, tortured, and then tried and executed for refusing to surrender details of her mission. Szenes, who wrote beautiful poetry during her lifetime, is regarded as a national hero in Israel.
Courage is all around us. Heroes in uniform—police officers, firefighters, and men and women serving in the military who protect our freedoms here and in Israel—run toward danger every day when everyone else is running away from it.
Jeff Peretz is a man of courage, but he’d probably disagree. Shortly after 9/11, I interviewed Peretz, a Jewish firefighter from Chicago’s West Side. After the planes hit the towers, he and nine other Chicago firefighters used their vacation time to help the victims. They drove caravan-style through the night from Chicago to New York. At Ground Zero, they used heavy machinery to lift debris from the site, and they also attended funerals—five a day—for fallen police officers and soldiers. I asked Peretz at the time if he considered himself a hero. “No,” he said, brushing off the question. “It’s my job. They would do it for us if it were the other way around.”
Sometimes courage wears no uniform. Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl, was 15 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for refusing to be silenced about her right—and all girls’ right—to an education. Malala, as she’s known around the world, has become a symbol of peaceful protest, the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Little kids can show big courage. Take 11-year-old Tommy Cooney, of Massachusetts. He discovered his 6-year-old friend, Danny Keefe, who suffers from a speech impediment due to a brain hemorrhage, was getting picked on by other kids because Keefe prefers to wear a suit and tie to school. To make his younger friend feel less alone, Cooney decided to dress in a suit and tie too, and encouraged other kids to wear fancy threads to school.
Be brave. In small ways. In big ways. Never let fear stop you from standing up for the things you believe in, the things you want to do, the things you know to be right. They won’t seem as scary after you do them.
Let the light in.