The bravest

One of the most quoted lines from Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is this:

“You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.” 

I'm so glad that so many readers have become attached to this sentences, because it is one of the things I think and feel most deeply about in this world. When asked to describe a central theme throughout all my books, I first explain that I don't think in terms of themes but in terms of story. 

I want to write an entertaining story. Any themes that emerge from that story are welcomed but often not initially intended.

However, when pressed, I will admit that I am attracted to characters on the fringes of society. People who dare to be exactly who they are despite their exclusion from mainstream society as a result. I like to write about people who are brave enough to be who they are when much of the world would laugh at or reject them for being themselves.

These are the bravest and most noble of all people in my mind.

To that end, I give you the washing machine enthusiasts featured on CBS Sunday Morning. Men who collect, admire, and obsess over washing machines. These are men who love to watch these machines at work.

They are easy to laugh at and dismiss but deserve to be honored for their willingness to be exactly who they are in such a public way.  

I admire the hell out of these men.

The secret to being brave - revealed by a six year-old girl

I took the kids to McDonald's on Thanksgiving morning, thinking that this would be a win-win-win for the entire family.

  • I would eat an Egg McMuffin and get some work done.
  • The kids would eat pancakes and play in the PlayPlace.
  • Elysha would have some time at home alone to read and relax.

And for a while, it looked like things would work out well.

We left Elysha at home with a new book and some coffee. 
I ate my customary breakfast.
Clara and Charlie enjoyed some pancakes. Then they went off to play while I continued work on my latest novel. 

About 15 minutes into my work, I heard Charlie call for help. I waited, hoping that Clara would solve the problem or the problem would go away (as it often does), but when his calls for help increased in volume and intensity, I went to check what was wrong.

I found Charlie about 25 feet off the ground, trapped in a plastic tube connected to the structure by netting on both sides. He had climbed higher than ever before, crossed the netting to reach the plastic tube, but was now trapped, afraid to cross back over. Adding to his fear was the instability of the section of tube in which he was stuck. Every time he moved, it shifted left and right, causing him to freeze in place and cry. 

It would be extremely difficult for me to climb to him, and there was a sign indicating that the structure was not built to hold an adult's weight. So I asked Clara to retrieve him, which would've meant climbing higher than she had ever climbed before. 


Clara refused, retreating to a corner and sucking her thumb, leaving me without any options. I begged, pleaded, cajoled, demanded, insisted, encouraged, and threatened Charlie for about 20 minutes before Clara finally agreed to climb up and help. She went as far as the netting - a monumental feat for her - but refused to cross over to his tube. From about five feet away, she encouraged Charlie to crawl over to her, reaching her hand across the span and asking him to meet her halfway. 

It was while she was trying to coax him across the net that something magical happened. 

She said, "Charlie, whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. That's what I do."

Tears welled up in my eyes. My daughter's wisdom astounded me. And I suddenly found myself wondering when she last needed to be brave. Had I missed it? Was I letting her down? Failing to protect her? Was she afraid more often than I thought? 

I felt like I was trapped in a Neil Gaiman novel. Danger and mystery and brilliant words of wisdom swirled around me. 

Clara repeated her advice. "Whisper to yourself what you love most, and that's how you can be brave. Do it, Charlie."

Then he did. In a tiny, high-pitched whisper, I heard him say, "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy."

You can't win them all.

Then he moved. Crawled toward the netting.  The tube shifted again, causing him to freeze and resume his cries of terror. 

Eventually I had to climb through the structure and across the net to scoop up my boy, who was, to his credit, very appreciative. Lots of hugs and kisses and "Thank you, Daddy" and "I love you, Daddy."

I didn't get a lot of work done, and I ended up with skinned knees and a bump on the head, but it was well worth it. 

Pope Francis’s unprecedented accessibility is admirable, but I wouldn’t call it brave.

In an effort to be more accessible to the people, Pope Francis has forgone much of the security that the Vatican recommends and that his predecessors used with regularity, including bullet proof vehicles and large numbers of highly visible security personal.


This has resulted in some tense moments for church officials, including last week’s papal visit to South America:

When Pope Francis’s motorcade took a wrong turn on his inaugural drive through Rio de Janeiro earlier this week, crowds rushed the car to get a glimpse of the popular pontiff. Francis seemed unfazed, rolling down his back-seat window and even reaching out for babies to kiss through his open car window.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi brushed off the incident. “His secretary was afraid, but the pope wasn’t,” he told reporters at a briefing after the pope’s car was rushed. “We have full confidence in the authorities. Today was the first experience, a learning experience, and we will see what happens in the next few days.”

While I find the pope’s desire to be more accessible to the people admirable, I’m less inclined to attribute his willingness to tempt fate to any amount of courage of his part, as has been suggested by various media outlets.

After all, he’s the pope.

If anyone is certain that Heaven exists, it’s the pope.

If anyone is convinced that he is going to Heaven, it’s the pope.

If anyone is absolutely sure that Heaven represents a state of eternal and total bliss, it’s the pope.

It would be a tragedy if the pope was killed as a result of this newfound accessibility, but in his mind, the consequence of an assassin’s bullet is Heaven.


Death still stinks, but it’s a pretty good consolation. 

On the other hand, it only makes sense that the pope’s secretary was afraid when the pope’s car was rushed by crowds last week. The secretary has not been deemed by a conclave of the highest of holy men as the closest human being to God.

He’s just a guy. Full of uncertainty, doubt and sin.

In short, he’s not the pope.

While I’m sure that the pope isn’t anxious to die anytime soon, there can’t be any doubt of eternal salvation from someone in his position. In his mind, he’s already punched his ticket to Heaven. The possibility of nonexistence and the threat of eternal damnation have been all but eliminated.

He’s the pope. If he doesn’t believe in Heaven, the Catholic Church is in some serious trouble.

The man’s passage through the Pearly Gates has been all but assured. It sort of diminishes the opportunity for bravery a bit.

Unless of course he follows in the steps of such predecessors as Pope Stephen VI.

Pope Stephen VI hated his predecessor, Pope Formosus, so much he had his rotting nine-month-old corpse dug up, redressed in his papal vestments and seated on the throne to be tried.

The man put a corpse on trial.

Not surprising, the rotting remains of Pope Formosus were found guilty. As punishment,, Pope Stephen VI ordered that the three fingers Pope Formosus used to give blessings be cut off. He was then stripped of his sacred vestments, dressed as a layman, dragged through the streets by horses and dumped in the Tiber River.

Pope Stephen VI probably had some legitimate concerns regarding the possibility of his eternal salvation, even with the protection of his papal title.

But Pope Francis? Probably not.