Trouver le courage

SUP‘Je ne suis pas très courageuse,’ as they say in French. I am no brave heart. I’ve shared before my challenges in coping with fear – in life and on the ski slopes. Rather than trying new things and going outside my comfort zone, holidays most often find me navigating between the bar and my beach chair, where I happily get lost in a good book between dips in and out of the water.

I do love the sea though, and was determined to try something new on this beach holiday. The resort program said ‘Introduction to Stand Up Paddle’. How hard could that be?

So I wandered down to the beach the other morning and joined a small group of people curious to find out what all this SUP fuss was about. It was a perfect day: blue sky, sunny and warm but not too hot, a light breeze.

Our bronzed surf instructor, a laid-back type of the beach-bum variety, coolly rhymed off a few instructions while showing us how to position ourselves in the middle of board, first on our knees, then in standing position. The paddling itself was old hat – any self-respecting Canadian knows their way around a canoe. Paddle left to go right; paddle right to go left. Back paddle to turn.

Then it was time to get into the water. We fastened our life jackets and secured the ankle straps to make sure we stayed with our boards. I stood at the water’s edge and looked out at the vast expanse of ocean, stretching to the horizon.

For a moment I pondered the unknown depths and breadth of that expanse. And then I felt it: a nudge of fear. Barely a ripple. Just the familiar fear of trying something new, a touch of agoraphobia at the unknown waters with vague shadows of fishes moving about near the bottom.

And I thought for an instant of what it must take for someone to take that giant leap into the unknown. To risk life and loved ones for a chance to make the great escape. Someone who may not be able to swim, who doesn’t even have a life jacket. Someone who risks it all on a rickety boat ride to foreign shores.

That is courage. Courage born of desperation. The kind of courage I will likely never know. There I was, on my stand-up paddle board, a privileged tourist just steps from safety, comfort – even luxury. And I dared to feel afraid?

Propelled by irony, in a sort of guilt-edged dream, I pushed out from the shore and took my first shaky steps on the stand up paddle. It wasn’t very hard. In fact, I barely even got wet.

Guilt is a fairly useless emotion, unless it spurs us on to do something good, to be better people. The refugee crisis is all around us in Europe, yet we blithely go on holiday and, when confronted with the all-too-human drama taking place on our shores, feel powerless to do anything about it. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between the way we as citizens feel about the refugees and our government’s response. I don’t have the answer, but I am thinking about the question. That’s a step forward. How about you?


  1. poshbirdy · September 11, 2015

    Beautifully written and a very valid observation

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Merci! So glad it rang true…

  2. davidprosser · September 11, 2015

    How true Mel. I feel differently towards the plight of these people than my Government seems to and I have to wonder whether it’s a monetary consideration for them or perhaps the fear that they will be bringing terrorists into our midst as well. Whatever their consideration the people are anxious to make sure the refugees are treated with care, warmth and dignity, At least they’ve upped the amount they’re willing to take now and that’s heartening.
    I still think the problem out there needs to be solved by the other Arab nations and not drag Europe into another conflict where we only end up being hated more.
    xxx Humongous Hugs to you xxx

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful response, David. I agree with you that the problem needs to be addressed on several levels – at the source as well as in the host countries. It’s so very complex, though, when it comes down to how to do that, and who should be involved… But in the meantime, it is heartening indeed to see that we haven’t forgotten the importance of providing shelter in a storm. Bises xo

  3. coteetcampagne · September 11, 2015

    I don’t know the answer, but I am encouraged that the question is seemingly now being addressed.
    I am becoming professionally involved in a collective voice being raised to push for a radical and long overdue shift in one other contentious corner of UK law; So I have some feeling and experience of how tough it is to achieve a shift in the gears and make a legal change that will have a positive impact on a sector of society.

    Sadly, if one wants those who have the power to make big changes to listen to everyman (or woman), one needs the ear of someone high profile and influential.
    Nothing changes there-The little voices don’t get that far.

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      So true. The wheels of the government machinery are slow to turn. But there seems to be a shift in the tide of public opinion on the refugee crisis, and one can only hope that will bring pressure for change. Too little, too late for many….but hope for others. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Multifarious meanderings · September 11, 2015

    An excellent point. I’m getting to the point where the blatant hypocrisy here in France is getting up my nose. Have you noticed all the people who are suddenly screaming about the plight of the homeless in France, saying that the French government should take care of their own population first? They are using the homeless as an excuse to support the xenophobic line taken by the far right – I don’t see any of these people, or the politicians they support, doing anything to help those in need around them like giving them food or offering them shelter – let alone consider the “migrants” as what they are: refugees in need of compassion, protection and a roof over their heads. If anyone else tells me that these people put their children’s lives in danger to scrounge off the French state, I’ll scream.

  5. A.PROMPTreply · September 11, 2015

    What a great perspective you gave this situation….bringing it down to something most anyone can relate to. Very much admire how you did that, but am even more impressed that you are thinking about the question……I wonder how many of us even realize that we’re, “…just steps from safety, comfort – even luxury” most days…..

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Mille merci for the comment! I would say that it’s hard NOT to feel equal measures of gratitude and guilt when you see the plight of so many just across the border… It’s easy to observe, so much harder to act. Cheers!

  6. roughwighting · September 11, 2015

    If we don’t empathize with others, if we don’t treat each person with compassion and love, we are not a civilized people. And non-compassion begets violence, hate, and fear.
    I appreciate how you humanized your fear of the paddle boat, denoting it when you think of the refugees and all they’re going through. Your empathy will shine through others. Let’s hope so. As a people, I feel all nations should help the refugees, as well as stop the horrible violence which sends them away from their homeland.

    • MELewis · June 8, 2016

      Just stumbled upon your thoughtful and kind comment, which I had completely overlooked! Sadly, months have gone by and little has changed or improved for the refugees….if only empathy were enough!

  7. memoirsofahusk · September 11, 2015

    Zeitgeist! I just posted something along the same sort of lines – what on earth can we do if we’re not lawyers or NGO bosses or politicians or doctors? Empathy, sympathy, making small contributions on a practical level feel so inadequate. Perhaps the fact that so many governments are not really representative of what people would choose to do if they were to communicate with each other is the key – anthropologists might have some ideas! And there is also to some extent the harvesting of the whirlwind – politicans have sown fear of ‘the other’ to get elected and now – they don’t really know what to do. Neither do I. Sigh.

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Agree entirely with your excellent post (on which I left a separate comment), that the blogging response does feel like idle self-indulgence. In fact, I hesitated awhile before posting this morning for that very reason. Empathy is all I have to offer here. It’s not much, but in the end, it’s something. And about our politicians: the disconnect is huge and sadly, only seems to widen….

  8. Suzanne et Pierre · September 11, 2015

    As usual, always interesting to read your we; thought point of views. I totally understand your point on fear and stepping outside to fight it; not always easy to do but so important. As for the refugee crisis, some people are getting into action. I am totally impressed and amazed by the German reactions to the massive arrival of refugees in their country. They are rolling up their sleeves and getting down to truly helping people though I don’t know how long it will last. In Canada, our current government is being very reluctant to open our doors to refugees so there hasbeen only a trickle coming through. The fact that most of the refugees are of muslin faith seems to scare a lot of people in this country…fear of the unknown I guess. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Thanks, Suzanne, for your thoughtful comments. Fear of the unknown certainly explains a lot of the reticence. Also the upcoming election! 😉 I agree that Germany and a few other countries are exemplary and can only wonder why it is that we in France seem to do so little. The only voices we hear on this topic are those of the far right. But I believe this has to change. Hopefully the tide is turning…

  9. cheergerm · September 11, 2015

    Overcoming any fear is never straightforward. Good on you for giving it a go, I can overcome work based/public speaking based fears but when it comes to the physical, I tend to be a bit of a chicken. But getting braver every day. Much refugee debate etc going on here too. Our current government is frustrating to say the least. We have room for more people, time to overcome some fear I say.

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      Greetings fellow chicken (public speaking also makes me sick with dread.) Seems that xenophobia is everywhere these days. We also have room in France, and in Canada, which, like your fair country, was built by immigrants. All governments seem to be frustrating when it comes to making ballsy decisions!

  10. George Lewis · September 11, 2015

    He only way to solve this problem is at the source by eliminating radical Islam and Islamic tribalism from the face of the earth . Unfortunately European countries are too cowardly and left wing to take the necessary drastic action

    • MELewis · September 11, 2015

      I’d go one step further and say the world would be a better place if we could eradicate all organized religion. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to live in a world without the freedom to believe what we choose. And the rise of radical Islam and the resulting refugee crisis is not just a European problem, but a global one.

      • George Lewis · September 11, 2015

        Canada and the U.S are fighting there .How many European countries are ?

  11. Food,Photography & France · September 12, 2015

    Having been educated at Catholic boarding schools I live with guilt…it’s part of the package. The brain washing stopped me believing but left me with the guilt. I’m still pondering your apposite remark concerning the disconnect between us and those we elected to do our dirty work…..I think I’ve stopped believing in that too.

    • MELewis · September 13, 2015

      Yes, it seems the guilt from a Catholic education lasts much longer than the dogma it attempts to inculcate. I’m not a believer in much these days either…beyond a basic faith in human kindness – even on the part of (some) elected officials!

  12. Mél@nie · September 17, 2015

    I totally understand you… ❤ btw, I am a brave heart – but in the mountains – earthly sign "oblige"… 🙂

    • MELewis · October 8, 2015

      Don’t know how I missed this comment, dear bravehearted Melanie! Even the courageous among us have to face down our fears sometime. Stay grounded! 🙂

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