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Land of the Unbrave


I have heard of the Undead, but is there any such thing as the Unbrave? The Unbrave sure showed up when the Spouse Mafia at work decided that we needed a team-building activity. How about the trapeze?

I thought at first this was a bar -- some kind of circus-themed bar with fruity drinks named after famous elephants and bartenders dressed as clowns. Not so much. This was an actual trapeze rig set up by Trapeze School New York at Nationals Park in downtown D.C.

I signed right up. I did, after all, love the monkey bars as a child. The fact that I was born without any upper body strength whatsoever and I have not done anything to change that condition conveniently slipped my mind. That’s my kind of brave.

So I was first up the ladder. My heart pounded in my throat. I told myself to handle it the way I handle all new and scary things -- concentrate on one step up the ladder at a time.

Do not think about the way the ladder bends and shakes. Do not pay attention to how easy it would be to fall off. Do not wonder why you are wearing a safety apparatus for ladder use.

The instructor on the platform gave me step-by-step instructions about what to do next. Soon I was poised out over the net with the instructor grasping me by the safety harness and handing me the trapeze. It was heavy. A lot heavier than I thought.

Down below, the Spouse Mafia called encouragement. I bent my knees to leap into the atmosphere. And I could not jump. My knees would bend. They just forgot how to jump. I’m sure I looked like an idiot bending my knees up and down, up and down with my feet clinging like claws to the platform.

Finally, I sort of … well … fell off the platform and clung to the bar. I could not wait for the instructor to tell me to let go.

Then I was in the net. I was fine. I watched my workmates climb the ladder in their turn. I thought, OK, we have done this and now we can go home.

Yet when each of my teammates came down from the trapeze, I saw that their faces were rapturous. They were having the time of their lives.

I was terrified. I was fighting back tears. They were practically pushing each other out of the way to do it again.

When my Army son called after my third turn, I took it as a fantastic reason to pick up my stuff and wave merrily goodbye to the group. I got to the car and sobbed.

“Why are you so scared, Mom?” my son asked. “Weren’t you safe? Weren’t you wearing a harness?”

“I’m not brave. I thought I was brave,” I wailed.

“I thought you told us that bravery was doing what you were afraid to do,” he said. “So you did it three times. That’s brave enough.”

“But I wanted to do it fantastically. I wanted to do it with style!”

“Maybe you should just be glad it is over,” he said. “You did it and it is over. You are allowed to be unbrave.”

I thought about being unbrave all the way home. While zombies might be dead and then undead, maybe I could be brave and then unbrave -- not only when it comes to the trapeze, but in every part of my life.

I’d like to be brave like our servicemembers and brave like other spouses I know. They are unflappable. They are practical. They are brave with grace.

Me, I walk with the Unbrave. I can try the trapeze and hate it. I can drag through deployments as if my wrists actually belong next to my ankles. I can flop my way through the scary stuff I have to face as long as I do it.

Being unbrave isn’t quite as cool as being brave. But maybe unbrave is brave enough.

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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