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I came out of the changing room, two skirts over my arm that fit and were in the sales, feeling quite pleased with myself. Shopping is often a fraught and emotional outting for me and I seemed to have come out unscathed and successful from this one. I headed towards the stairs to find Rasmus in the men’s section below, but as I rounded another rack of clothes, something caught my eye.

It was bright red dress, hanging in a rack of navys and greys which is why it had jumped out at me. My size. Well, it wouldn’t hurt to try. I headed back to the changing room.

Despite it being the second weekend of January, the shop was almost deserted and I had the changing room to myself. I slipped the dress over my head and then pulled back the curtain to see myself in the big mirrors. What I saw made me smile. This dress was bright. Like the kind of bright that makes heads turn when you walk in, the kind of bright that makes you easy to spot in a crowded room, the kind of bright that just about glows.

Red dress

I smiled again, did a little twirl and slipped back into the changing room. Downstairs, Rasmus asked if I’d had any luck. Yes, I replied. I found these two skirts, and also this red dress. We headed for the cashier, me clutching my purchases close.

Because you should know about me that I am not normally the kind of woman who buys a red dress. The clothes in my wardrobe are various shades of grey, navy, dark green, the odd splash of blue thrown in. A yellow cardigan is about as daring as I get in colour. When I go to a party the goal is blending in rather than standing out. I’ve become comfortable over the last few years with public speaking as my church gave me lots of opportunities to practise, but the thought of being the centre of attention is still more likely to make me feel flustered than favoured.

But the smile when I saw my reflection in the mirror came easily. I liked the joyful bright colour. It is cold and mostly grey in Luxembourg at the moment and this flash of colour brought memories of hot summers, meals on the terrace, long evenings with friends and glasses of wine.

So I bought it.

But old habits die hard. Last night Rasmus and I went out for a fancy meal and I planned to wear the red dress. But once it was on and we were preparing to walk out the door, the old fear of being noticed came flooding back. I must have asked him three or four times “Are you sure I look ok?” Yes. Was always his reply. You look great.

Red Dress

The restaurant was trendy and buzzing, hidden in a back street of a slightly downtrodden-looking neighbourhood. I sat at the bar, downlit with red and pink lights and sipped my raspberry cosmopolitan and looked around me. Nearly every other woman in the room was wearing black. And I felt suddenly very glad that I had found the courage to walk out our front door in a dress that shouted colour!

Because I need to welcome back colour in my life. I need less black and grey dresses that claim to flatter but make me look like everyone else. I need less worrying about fitting in and more courage to just be myself. I need less gloominess, less realism and resignation, and more confidence, more positivity, more carving my own path.

Brave is a red dress. And this year I’m wearing it.

Red Dress

Brave is my one little word for 2012. Sometimes I’ll be sharing my thoughts on it and how it is shaping me, with you all here.

Brave Openness

I have a little figurine that my mum gave me a few years ago, one of the willow tree ones that are so popular now. She’s one of their angel series, and her name is courage.

Her arms are open wide wide wide and her head is thrown back, face turned upward.

I love that this is how the artist chose to capture the spirit of courage. This is no defensive battle stance, fists raised in aggression, or arms folded in defiance. There is an openness in this position. A letting go. A freedom.

I’ve stood in this position a few times before. Often it has been at the top of a mountain, a hill, a cliff. Something about the wide open skies, the space before and around me requires me to spread my arms wide and throw back my head in celebration and awe to take it all in.

This is also the position you see bungee jumpers take sometimes as they launch themselves from bridges and cliffs. Now, I can’t see myself ever doing that, but I love that idea of stepping out, leaping out and feeling the thrill of falling head first into life, with its mix of joy and fear.

Maybe this is what it is to be brave, then: this openness to life, even when it is so big and overwhelming it awes us to silence; this stepping out, even if it means un unknown freefall into something or someplace new.