A few weeks ago, I was driving a new co-worker to an off-site meeting. During the drive, we started to talk about families and where we grew up. I told her that I was born and raised in Lahore and moved to the United States for college. "You're so brave," she said, clearly awestruck. I was simultaneously touched and incensed by the comment that was intended to be a compliment. After a few moments of silence, I smiled and said, "I don't know if I am, really."

This post has been in "Drafts" since that day, and I just couldn't work up the nerve to explore the emotional baggage that comes with the admission of not really being brave. It took me years to exercise the courage needed to distill my immigration story down to the absolute facts and accept them. I met a boy. We fell in love. He moved to California. He asked me to follow him. I did. Five years later, we got married. Three years after that, we had a baby. Obviously, there were some additional layers to the story. There were doubts and disagreements and other developments, too. I excelled academically and attended a great university, got an amazing job, became a very different person than the girl who left Lahore over ten years ago. He became a different person, too. But the story still has the same skeleton. We grew up together in profound ways as lonely immigrants, ambitious students, competitive H1-B workers, having the classic first-generation conflict. (Exhibit A: "Yes, I know we occasionally eat non-zabiha meat, but our daughter won't.")

I left home for love. When I grew up, I realized love really doesn't matter unless you're watching Love, Actually or Dan in Real Life every Christmas. Love waxes and wanes, you see. I don't always love my husband, but I do always (begrudgingly) attempt to understand him, and he, me. We do not meet on the same plane of understanding either - our ideas and philosophies have diverged more over the years than they have come together, but each of us knows where the other is coming from. I am braver now in admitting this than I was when I left home. At the time, I was only thinking headily of the love that awaited me, not of all the love I left behind.

So, even though there is a conventionally happy end to the story of my "journey," when I look back to the initial decision of traveling so far away from home for love, and only secondarily, for education, it was not a brave one. In fact, I have never recognized it as brave, even when I lift the veils guarding that part of my past to see more clearly. It was headstrong. It was stubborn. It was stupid. But it wasn't brave. I have been brave since then, in other things, but that day under the cloud-laden sky of Lahore, I was just a willful teenager, and nothing more. (And to everyone who forewarned me of having this epiphany all those years ago, yes, I agree, an eighteen-year-old really doesn't know everything.)

I was not brave on that day when I left the city I loved, the people I loved, but carried some part of them with me all the way to California, as well. Bravery awaits me in the months ahead when I go back home to juxtapose the reality of the faces I remember with what they have become. Bravery is a two days of travel. Bravery is breathing in the scent of Lahore - what was it like? Bravery is going back home, not leaving it.