Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Courage

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Photo by Kristina Koehler. See more of Kristina's work on her Etsy site

I used to believe that courage was a word used exclusively to honor heroes and people who had overcome a mountainous challenge, but with the years, I've become aware that courage appears in our daily lives, in many small but important ways, and does not require a qualifying element of tragedy or drama to make it legitimate.

Brené Brown is an author who made this clearer for me in her book, Daring Greatly. How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. If you’re one of the 32 million people who watched Brown's TED talk on "The Power of Vulnerability," you’ll know that she is a research professor who has spent over a decade digging into the roots and manifestations of shame. In her lectures and books therefore, she speaks with the ease and credibility of one who thoroughly knows her subject, but is also a master storyteller. Brown discusses why and how we should open ourselves up to uncertainty and the risk of being hurt or disappointed. She makes a convincing case for finding the courage to be vulnerable—to live a fuller life. What I loved about Daring Greatly is its friendliness, because Brown exposes her own failings, vulnerabilities, and struggle for courage with such honesty that it feels like she is taking you into her confidence. Reading the book inspired me to be bolder about taking risks and stepping out of my comfort zone. Once I was able to think of myself as being brave, rather than exposing myself to the chance of hurt or failure, it was easier, though not easy, to step into unchartered territories.

Another author writing courageously rather than about courage, is Naomi Ragen, who takes on hitherto taboo issues affecting Orthodox Jewish women in her books, such as adultery, rape, and domestic abuse. In Sotah, Ragen, an Orthodox Jew herself, invites us into the fictional world of the Jerusalem-based Reich family, where we meet Dina, the second daughter of eight children. Unable to marry for love, the heartsore Dina is matched with gentle giant Judah, but circumstances contrive to make her restless with disastrous consequences for everyone. The beauty of Ragen's books resides in the rich descriptions of Orthodox Judaism, it's culture, and rituals, which she layers with historical and Biblical context. Through her characters, she reveals the simplicity and beauty of a pious life where most decisions are made for you, but also the struggle, particularly of women, to stay strong and dutiful when the burden seems too heavy to bear. In these times of growing political and religious intolerance, receiving such an authentic insight into another world helped humanize the people behind the labels. If you were ever curious to find out the truth behind the mysterious world of Orthodox Jewish beliefs, rituals, and customs, this is a very pleasant way to uncover it. 

Abigail Lalonde, Social Media Editor, looks at another aspect of courage in her book recommendation. "If ever there was a character who depicts courage, it's Ree Dolly in Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone. At times, the story is brutal and hard to read, especially considering the young age of the protagonist. Dolly is a mere 16, but must act as an adult on her quest to find her missing father, dead or alive, or risk losing her home and two brothers. Forced to grow up fast, Dolly is a tough character in that she has seen and struggled more than your average adult, but at no point does she lack human emotion. Overcoming both physical and emotional obstacles throughout the text, Dolly is forever changed. Though the book is short at 193 pages, its impact is quite heavy and has stuck with me through the years. Set in the Ozarks, Woodrell captures a slice of life story that I would never have been privy to in my own life. I highly suggest this book, as well as the movie adaptation. Both embody courage and bravery."

Christina Consolino, Senior Editor and Profiles Editor, writes: "When I think about courage, my mind immediately jumps to Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins. While it has been years since I first read the novel, I still remember being blown away by it. Based on the true story of a young girl stranded on an island off the California coast in the 19th century, the book features Karana, who for 18 years must rely on herself for just about everything. Over the course of those years, she learns to find her own food, make her own clothes, build her own shelter and weapons, and protect herself against the environment. She fearlessly swims in the oceans and stares down a pack of dogs. She uses fire like an expert and nurses a dog back to health. Karana represents everything I didn't when I was her age, and I think that children and adults alike can learn from Karana's bravery."

Finally, Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant, Susan Rowe, shares a moving and inspirational read: "Over the holidays, I found Tramp for the Lord by Corrie ten Boom in the library of a vacation rental. I first read Corrie ten Boom's best-selling book The Hiding Place as a teenager, and it was my introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust. It tells the story of how ten Boom, her father, and sister, were imprisoned for hiding Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. Tramp for the Lord is the story of how ten Boom dedicates her life to telling people that Jesus Christ sustained her during her terrible ordeal in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Nazi Germany. This is a book about journeys of faith and religion, but also about courage. Ten Boom is weak from starvation, homeless, and 52 years old when she is released from the camp. Both her father and sister are dead. Yet, with the conviction that she is called to share her experience of grace and love in the midst of unspeakable cruelty during her imprisonment, she travels by herself to America on a freight ship with only $50 in her pocket to begin a ministry that will last three decades. Later, she returns to Germany, where she helps convert a former concentration camp into a center for healing other displaced persons. The book relates her travels across the globe—visiting horrific jails in Africa, standing up to border guards in East Berlin, and persevering in the face of fatigue, hardship, and countless obstacles. Tramp for the Lord is told through a series of short vignettes, making it a very accessible read. Each short chapter reveals an unexpected moment of grace or an outright miracle. The book was written decades ago, but ten Boom's message of the power of love to overcome hate, resonates profoundly today."

Which courageous author or fictional character has inspired you? Leave us a comment below.

Nerys Copelovitz is a British born marketing writer and mother of three who now lives in Israel. Her writing on parenting and living in a hot spot can be found in the Times of Israel, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy and Kveller. When not sweating over a hot keyboard, or stove, she likes to read and swim, though not in tandem.

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Kristina Koehler is a photographer, mama, traveler, and psychologist, with a passion for creating intimate, powerful images that touch the heart and connect deeply to all senses.

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