Crazy Stupid Courage

Fear is my Number One Nemesis. But when I tell you this story, you might not believe me.

I founded a non-profit that hires and trains resettled refugees using a couple of bright red coffee trucks and an old gas station we’ve converted into a coffee shop. Customers order up at the truck and drink their lattes (or chai or hot chocolate) inside. Right now, we have a refugee and immigrant staff of six that run both the shop and our catering business.

One day during a meeting at our shop, I looked outside and saw a guy get out of his car and saunter over to the truck. I’m ashamed to admit I profiled him right away. He was old, maybe even older than me. He looked vaguely redneck-ish. And he had a very visible holster with a very visible gun strapped to his waist.

Because we champion the rights of refugees, we get flack from time to time, mostly from people who look like this guy. Nothing major, just questions about whether refugees are legal (they are) or whether they are stealing jobs Americans want (they aren’t).

I was on high alert. I said, “Excuse me. I need to check on something,” and walked outside. I stood there, arms folded, right next to our truck window and just watched. That night, my husband asked me what exactly I thought I was going to do.

“Good question,” I said, “I honestly thought that if he pulled out the gun, I’d yell, ‘Hey! If you’re gonna shoot my people, you’re gonna have to shoot me first!’”

Doesn’t sound like the actions of a fearful person, does it? The thing is, knee jerk reactions just look courageous when, really, they are just stupid. The truth is, I am mostly sane and yet mostly terrified. We hire and train refugees, and I often feel responsible for making this whole experiment work. I am ultimately responsible for paying salaries. For ensuring that our trainees make meaningful transitions when they leave us. For maintaining our mission and culture. It doesn’t keep me up at night—I love sleep—but it does make me second guess a lot.

So why would a woman who is a certified chicken do something stupid like standing up to a skinny, redneck gunman? The reason, I’ve come to believe, is the only answer to fear. Not the solution to fear, but rather the way to make your fear count. Because if you start anything worth starting, you will be afraid.

The only answer when fear calls your name is love.

What if the fierceness of my love for others somehow exceeded the fierceness of my fear? Every mother knows all about that. We Mama Bears are scared to death, and that is exactly why we run into burning buildings or jump into the deep end with our clothes on. In that moment, we are more scared for someone than we are scared of something.  (Oh, by the way, the guy just ordered coffee and left. Whew.)

Still, less dramatic, more fearful situations abound. The other day I had to have a tough conversation. I hate tough conversations, as in I’m deathly afraid of them. But this particular conversation absolutely had to take place if we were going to do right by all our refugee employees. My love for them overrode my fear of the tough conversation. And by “overrode,” I mean love made diving headlong into my fear a foregone conclusion. It didn’t get rid of the feelings, but it made them worth it.

My husband often says, “Life is overwhelming. So be sure you’re overwhelmed with the right stuff.”

I think he’s right, and I think this applies to fear as well. You are going to be afraid. Fear is a natural defense mechanism, after all. Just be sure you’re afraid of the right stuff for the right reasons. That—not fearlessness—is real courage.

How will you choose courage over fear today?

Kitti Murray, Founder of Refuge Coffee