Choosing Courage: Lessons from Durga

In one split second, I realized that I had to make a decision about who I am. In that moment, I had to make the choice about who I was and what I stood for. It was the first time that I really met the Durga energy in my life, even though I had no idea who she was at the time. It was the year 2011, and I was living in Cairo, Egypt at the time. It was in the middle of an uprising known as the Arab Spring. At the time, I was studying human rights law. So it was an interesting moment in time to be there. That day, my friends and I were walking around, bringing medical supplies to people who had been injured. In all honesty, I was curious to see what was happening and to witness this moment in history. As I left the house that morning, I was utterly unprepared for all that I would see that day. As we rounded the corner on to Kasr el Aini, I watched the police open fire on a group of protesters. As I looked around me, at rows of hundreds of police officers, I realized the severity of the situation. I stood, dumbfounded, as they pulled protestors violently off the bridge, specifically a young woman my age. I felt frozen in place. Something in my brain switched off. It told me to run and leave everyone behind. The only thing I had to do was to keep myself safe at that point. Then, I looked over at my friends. And as I did, some shred of my humanity returned. They were sitting next to the woman who had been dragged off the bridge. I remember seeing her face and realizing that she was terrified and in pain. It wasn’t uncommon for people to be arrested by the police and never return. Jail in Egypt was no joke. And in that moment, I realized one of the officers was walking towards her in a way that let me know he would harm her. I knew I had to make a choice of what I would do, and the choice could mean that I would be harmed. I had to choose to stand with her, or to run away and let her be beaten by the police officer. Something in me knew that I could only make one choice. I had committed my life to help oppressed people. And so, I decided that I would take a stand. In what felt like an hour, but was probably only a matter of seconds, I stood up and turned to face the police officer. I mustered every ounce of courage I could find in my body and said to him, “You will not touch her.” The officer looked at me, studying me intently for a moment. Then he laughed and shrugged his shoulders as he walked away. My friend and I walked this woman through the lines of police. This was the first moment that I felt a tangible energy of Durga. It was a moment that reminded me of who I am and what I believe in. One aspect of Durga is the essence of courage. In her mythology, she comes to save the world at a moment when it seems as though it will be lost. She has the fierce protective energy of a loving mother. She has taught me again and again of the importance of support in discovering courage; how I support myself and how I let the environment around me support me to step into the world bravely. But most importantly, Durga reminds me that courage is an act of love. What were the moments of courage you have experienced in your own life?

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