I was reading back from some journal entries I wrote a few years ago, trying to make sense - once again - of the chaos that is my life. I came across some notes I'd taken when the idea of a "common bravery" was really starting to invade my consciousness. It all came back to the fact that I needed to find a better way to deal with the grind of daily life, of everything that surrounded me regardless on a daily basis. It was a reminder that the inspiration for this is all around me, that I just need to find something that inspires me and hold onto that thing tight inside of me and use it to create a simple courage. A common bravery.
The best thing about bravery is that it's contagious. Once, many years ago, I conducted an interview as part of an oral history paper I was studying at Otago University. The woman I was interviewing, whom I had never met before, was in her eighties. She had come to Port Chalmers as a young woman, and was still living when I interviewed her. She told me things about her life I could never have imagined - such as the excitement of having the first washing machine on her street which all the women would share - and I doubt it was automated. Of the strength she mustered when she was moved away from her family and anyone else she knew to the, at that time, rather isolated Port Chalmers to be husband-pleaser, baby-maker, mother and housekeeper. Of being pulled suddenly into the workforce during the War as the menfolk left their jobs, but the factories had to keep running. And the joy and camaraderie of that work. And then, just as suddenly, of being relegated back to the house, in isolation, labelled as 'useless', as the men returned home again. That this tiny woman, feeding me up with scones and showing off the family photos, was telling me about this incredible life without batting an eyelid was amazing, and I felt so privileged to hear her story.
And then.. she asked if we could turn off the dictaphone, and go off the record. And she proceeded, to a complete stranger a quarter of her age, to break down, to rant, to rage, about all the things she had never been allowed to say as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a grandmother.. This tiny woman, whom had had to hold in so much for so long, suddenly found a common bravery with a stranger and released all the feelings and stories she had held inside her for so long.. I feel like I should insert something meaningful here that ties together the story, but no words can express hearing someone release intense emotions they have been holding inside for decades.
I never completed the course. But the University has the recording, and I hope one day someone does honour to her story. And I am proud to be the recipient, and perhaps the releaser, of the parts that aren't on the tape.