Happy on my treadly some Sundays ago, I found myself thinking about bravery.  I wasn’t planning on dramatically sliding my pushbike beneath a truck or launching myself over a giant pothole.  I was thinking about a good friend who’d received feedback from a potential publisher on his latest manuscript for a novel.  ‘They say I have to be braver, the bravest,’ he’d told me.  ‘Give me an example of what this means,’ he added, ‘to be the bravest of the brave.’ And then he’d flung back his double-shot long black, and more than a bit wounded, disappeared into the wilds of the nearest supermarket, heading for the chocolate aisle, then the ice-cream aisle, and then the bottle-o.

I rode off to the pool in town, because swimming for me is what camomile tea is to those brave enough to try living without caffeine.  See?  Bloody bravery!  That word was smothering my beautiful autumn afternoon, all because my friend had received that feedback.

But what does bravery actually mean?

There is, of course, bravery and there’s stupidity.  It wouldn’t be brave of me to even consider sliding my bike under a truck just because I’d seen it done in movies, and it wouldn’t be brave to try bunny-hopping a pothole by clenching my thighs around the bike frame and getting some kind of levitation thing going.  This would be the stuff of fiction.

Well, let’s talk about fiction.  Was Tim Winton brave when he put two different families in an old Perth house and wrote his Cloudstreet epic?  Was Morris West brave when he constructed the extraordinary Eminence around the idea of the Pope-in-waiting being an atheist?  Was Annie Proulx brave to write about a life-long love affair between two American cowboys in Brokeback Mountain.  Was Heath Ledger brave to star in the filmed version of Proulx’s story?  I’m not sure I know the answers to these questions, except the last, which is a resounding yes.

But I needed to find something more definite for my friend.

I reached the city’s paved central square, the cafes half-filled with neatly dressed Sunday afternoon types guzzling coffee.  A short distance away, black-clad teenagers lurked menacingly over a stainless-steel pillow with its accompanying poem inconspicuous beneath.

Within seconds my ears filled with the speed-boat-like sound of trance music coming from a portable CD player off to one side of the stage.  Gathered around the CD player was a group of about a dozen boys.  I’m hopeless at determining ages of people but I figured that the youngest would have been about ten, the oldest maybe fourteen, fifteen.  Some were small, others just beginning to be awkward and gangly.  Most were casually sitting on the lip of the stage, but three of them, the youngest of the group, were dancing wildly as if the ground was burning up; they were moving so fast it looked like their legs were going to separate from their bodies.  They weren’t there to draw a crowd.  They were simply dancing in public, and they didn’t have a care in the world, it didn’t matter what others thought of them.

Minutes later, as I lowered myself into the cool pool water, I silently said to my friend, I have found what you need.

(First published in Panorama, Canberra Times, April 25 2009)

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