Parking in New York City was quite possibly the worst experience of my life.

That may be slightly dramatic, but I half mean it. Each street is assigned two days of street cleaning for an hour and a half, during which time everyone hastily plays a game of musical chairs with their cars. In case any of you think otherwise, this means parallel parking. Lots of parallel parking. All at the fastest rate imaginable, into the tiniest spots. Basically, it’s my personal idea of hell.

Let’s say the sign says “Street cleaning from 8-9:30 a.m.” At 8 a.m., everyone gets in their cars and double parks them on the other side of the street. Then, as soon as the street sweeper comes through, everyone swings their cars around as fast as they can to get back into a spot on the other side of the road. Usually, a few randos have shown up to get in on the action, too, so there are not enough spots left for everyone– pretty much exactly like musical chairs. Killing stray animals and destroying public property are perfectly legal during the switch up. (Except there is no such thing as a stray animal in NYC.)

parking nyc

To make matters even more exciting, if you are lucky enough to reclaim a spot, you then have to sit in your car for the remainder of time on the sign in case the police come by and tell you that you’re technically not allowed to be there from 8-9:30 a.m. So if the sweeper comes at 8:45, you’re still required to sit in your car for the next 45 minutes. No matter what, 1 1/2 hours of your morning is dedicated to parking– and that’s at the very least, because there’s always a chance you can’t reclaim or find a spot at all, then you get to drive around in circles for God knows how long, looking for a place to ditch your vehicle.

Driving in NYC was my greatest fear for years, so when I was forced to drive into the city during Fleet Week this past spring, I didn’t handle these parking wars very well. I was a ball of nerves before I even crossed over the George Washington Bridge! Oh, the things I’ll do for love.

The first morning (after miraculously finding parking at 2 in the afternoon when I arrived the day before), I gave up the idea of reclaiming my spot before the street sweeper even arrived, too scared of the madness that would ensue once it pulled through. Therefore, I started driving aimlessly in circles, on the verge of tears, wondering if this would be the day I die, or worse, kill someone else. Eventually, I found a spot.

Same thing happened the second morning. (Yes, I kept finding spots that had alternating cleaning days, which meant I was forced to move my car basically every single day. But beggars can’t be choosers. You see a spot– you take it.)

Then, in a magical twist of fate, as I began the traumatic circle of death on my third morning, I accidentally stumbled along an active street sweeper on a different street…on the exact block where I was staying. I thought finding parking within ten blocks was a sweet deal…but the SAME block? Could I be dreaming??

I flipped a u-ey in the middle of the two-lane road and slipped right on into a spot behind the sweeper truck.

That may be the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

Not only that, but the sign said I didn’t have to move my car for another FOUR days! I’d already be out of the city then! Talk about going out on top.

I’ve written before about pushing yourself to accomplish things that feel scary or impossible, like the time I jump-started my car. That was big. But I’ve never exactly tackled bravery as topic in and of itself. This is probably because I am the most cowardly person I know.

cowardly lion

Not really, but the lesson today will have more of a dramatic effect if I say I’m a wimp.

So yes, I’m brave in some senses. I have no fear of confrontation, navigating a new city (other than by car), or public speaking. But that rush people feel when they jump out of an airplane or hang out in a shark cage? Yeah, no thanks.

I don’t think I’d be the first to run into battle or climb into a burning building. Maybe if my husband’s, siblings’, or parents’ lives were at stake, but that’d be more of a panic move, not a bravery move. Knowing my unwillingness to happily put my life on the line outside of saving my family makes me question the whole concept of high-stakes bravery. Is bravery reckless? Is it simply pushing your limits? Does bravery count if it only affects your own well-being? Or is it a selfless act of valor?

To me, skiing 100 mph down a mountain is kind of reckless. Brave? I guess. But mostly reckless. When it comes to being “brave” in the face of an extreme activity, I’m not exactly sure that’s something I would be proud of. We use “brave” as a huge compliment, but I hardly think flinging yourself off the side of a mountain attached to a bungee cord is worthy of praise. Bravery in that sense is not really bravery at all, if you ask me.

bungee jumping

Then there’s bravery like I experienced this morning by driving in NYC: Doing something that scares you, but probably won’t kill you. This is a more personal definition of bravery– something that is different for every person. While singing in front of 2,000 people isn’t an act of bravery for someone like me, it would be a huge act of bravery for someone who fears public performance. I think this definition of bravery is the kind that all of us can work on, because it benefits our characters. It expands our horizons, instills in us a huge sense of accomplishment, and allows us to become more confident beings.

Moving on up the ladder, we reach the kind of bravery that benefits ourselves. This includes something like me taking a bullet for my husband. Brave, sure, but still an act of self-preservation because I would rather die and save my husband than live without him. This kind of bravery could also mean escaping from a horrible situation (think Harriet Tubman) or confronting danger in hopes that it creates less danger in the long run (think tackling someone threatening you with a gun). There’s no denying that these types of acts are brave, but they’re also a bit inevitable. Either you take action, or you’re a goner (or miserable forever) anyway.

Then there’s bravery when it comes to a David and Goliath moment. Under this umbrella are the men and women who partake in combat to protect our country, firefighters who rescue people in distress, police officers who approach criminals, the teachers who give their lives in school shootings, or basically anyone who takes action in a way that benefits the lives of strangers above their own. To me, this is the ultimate bravery, because it’s life-or-death stuff that’s outside the realm of personal gain. Like I said, I’d probably do some super intense stuff to save my family, and probably friends or school children, but I can’t say I’d be willing to go on the front lines of battle for our country, or for people I’ve never met. That sounds horrible. I know. But I’m just trying to be honest.

My bravery only goes so far, which is why I’m always so in awe of our military personnel and anyone else who values a greater cause or community more than they value self-preservation. The selflessness that accompanies this kind of bravery makes it, to me, is the true sense of the word.

All in all, I have a few messages for you to take with you from this post:

1. Don’t expect my praise when you jump out of an airplane

2. Non-life-threatening bravery is good for you, so push yourself to face your fears (I guess that could include jumping out of an airplane…but it could also include just trying a new food or parking your car in NYC)

3. Saving yourself and people you love is admirable, so take action and defend your life. That’s all good. I support that.

4. In thanking people for their bravery, really think about who deserves it. Who does something that doesn’t benefit themselves, and instead helps others or a cause? It doesn’t have to be by means of death, but I strongly believe that bravery in its truest form is entirely selfless. Let’s give those folks the distinction and thanks they deserve.

I wrote this before the attack in Nice, and even before the Alton Sterling incident or the police shootings in Dallas. I wrote it before Orlando and before Turkey. So clearly, we will all have to be brave at some point in the current world we live in, with horrible things happening left and right. Start training yourself now, because you never know when you’ll need to step up and be a #4 kind of hero.