“Bravery isn’t special. But that means everybody has it.”
– Maka Albarn, Soul Eater
Episode 51, “The Word is Bravery”
Over the course of the anime Soul Eater, there is a great deal of conflict. There are battles fought between armies, showdowns between figures of godlike power, and collisions between witches and reapers. The young heroes face diabolical enemies, terrifying monsters, horrific scenes, and traumatic ordeals. Most of all, though, the first and last, what they face is fear itself. Fear is what drives their most formidable enemy, a creature of madness and terror whose entire existence has been consumed by fear, and by the vain attempt to never feel it again. Imagine this foe’s uncomprehending frustration, then, with those who neither flee from what they fear nor eliminate fear from what they feel, but instead answer fear with courage, with bravery.
As with all cowards, bravery is something which this vile enemy has no understanding of.
There are many within the story of Soul Eater which seek for greater power. The villains, certainly, but also the heroes. Yet, where the heroes seek to achieve ever greater heights of skill and strength, they do so that they might be more effective against their enemies, to protect people. But the final villain sought power as a means to fight his own fear, to gain so much power that he need not fear anything, because nothing would be able to hurt him. To him, power is what elevates one above fear, and to be above fear is something special, not normal, not ordinary.
I think we can see something of that in many of our stories. When we think of courage, we look to all-powerful heroes like Hercules, Superman, Thor, Goku, and countless other overpowered protagonists, figures which are larger than life, special above all, set above the need for fear, because they are practically invulnerable. They don’t need to work at anything, it’s all easy, so they can never fail, never falter, never fall, and never feel fear.
There is a certain legitimate root to that, as power is the first visible tool of our defense, securing our safety from the monsters which surround us. But we can gain all the power we want, and kill or otherwise disable everything which threatens us until there is none such remaining… and still we can be afraid. Ensuring our security for a moment does not free us from fear.
There is no such thing, really, as being entirely free from fear. Not by means of power, at least.
But fear can be overcome. It can be mastered. It can be answered with courage.
Courage is not an absence of fear, but a choice to act in spite of it.
And that choice does not depend on what we can do. Bravery is not dependent on power. Indeed, some of the bravest people ever to walk this world have been among its most powerless.
A young woman who defied the Nazis and was hanged rather than give up her comrades in the shadows, or another young girl who stole and preserved the books that they wanted to burn, or a small group of soldiers which faced the oncoming horde in the Battle of the Bulge. The regular people who participated in the underground railroad to help escaping slaves, or who were hanged by the KKK for not submitting to them, or who marched against Jim Crow, facing fire hoses and dogs for what was right. The colonists and pioneers who left their homes and braved unknown wilds in the hopes of making a free life for themselves and their posterity.
All of these were brave, courageous people who faced down tyrants and savages, hatred and bigotry, even the formidable wrath of nature itself. Surely they were all afraid at times, yet the pressed on. And they were all perfectly normal people.
Bravery is not a special thing. It’s not reserved for the powerful, the strong, the invulnerable, the people we think shouldn’t need to ever feel fear at all. No, it is ours, a normal, everyday thing found in normal, everyday people, who deal with normal, everyday fear… every day.
Not everyone chooses to be brave, of course. Many surrender to fear and let it drive them to do unspeakable things. But we all have the capacity for it.
We don’t have to be special to be brave.