|catching courage in unusual places, when we least expect it…|
In Kathy Kelly’s book Other Lands Have Dreams, she talks about “catching courage.” She says that we catch courage from each other, from being around other people with courage. Our courageousness does not come from being fearless but from dealing with our fear.
I believe that to be so.
I am not by nature a courageous person but I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who have shown courage in the face of insurmountable difficulties. And not just people. I’ve seen courageous dogs and cats, as well. Animals facing terrible odds against them simply persevere. Smokey was a cat who taught me about courage. He had lymphoma. As his illness make him weaker, he continued to try to jump on my lap. And he failed, every time. I picked him up and cradled him and, despite the pain that he must have felt, he purred and kissed me.
It is hard to be as graceful as that cat while suffering as much as he was.
Here are some of my experiences of catching courage:
Witness Against War Walk in 2008: One of our walkers was an Iraq war veteran named Paul. Not long after 9/11, Paul joined the U.S. Army. He wanted to express his patriotism. At first, the army was great fun for him. He was sent to Hawaii and had a great time, hanging out on the beach during his free time.
After the Iraq War started in 2003, life in the U.S. Army changed dramatically for Paul. He was sent to Iraq, where he spent fourteen months. He said that he was never told what the mission Iraq was. The soldiers’ missions changed erratically, and no one had a clue as to why they were fighting.
Paul spoke before groups and told them about his experiences. One day, when we were in Madison, he talked about the firing. It was aimed at places where there might be insurgents. Paul described it as random barrages that hit whatever and whomever might be in the way. The goal was to provide enough firing to prevent the insurgents from doing anything.
“We fired in an area,” Paul said. “There were no insurgents, just a shepherd who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We killed him… We killed a family in their house… a family…”
Paul was reliving the horror as he spoke to the group. He left the room in tears. A few of the walkers followed Paul outside. We cried with Paul. He said that it was hard to talk about the war and that there were things that happened that he not told anyone. We told Paul that we were proud of him and that we loved him.
A man named Will came out of the building to talk to Paul. Will is a Vietnam veteran.
“It took me years to talk about the war,” Will said, explaining that Paul showed a lot of courage for speaking out.
“You are 37 years ahead of me,” Will said.
Later, Paul rode away on a bicycle, with Helene seated behind him.
That day, Paul sent out a lot of courage, and I’d like to think that I caught courage from Paul.
Federal Prison Camp, Danbury, Connecticut, 2007:
In Danbury, I was fortunate enough to have a best friend named Anita. She kept me laughing by giving me books to read about a bounty hunter named Stephanie Plum. My roommates got to hear all of the giggling and squealing as I read about yet another car that Stephanie had managed to wreck. Anita worked as the mechanic in ground maintenance. When I went to work there, it was still snowing so the boss didn’t send me out to pick up litter. Anita taught me how to do cool stuff, like change spark plugs. I crawled under large lawnmowers and unscrewed things so that the lawnmower parts could be cleaned and made ready for the mowing season.
Anita persevered in prison despite health problems. She had to have her blood pressure medication adjusted because it wasn’t working. That took a lot of work because health care in prison was a nightmare. At one point, Anita became very ill and had to go to the hospital, where she had gall bladder surgery. She recovered pretty well from that.
Two years after Anita went home, she suffered a debilitating stroke that affected the left side of her body. In fact, her stroke was so severe that the doctors did not expect Anita to survive.
Anita did survive and she learned to type with her right hand, which was challenging for a left handed person. She is a strong and determined person who has overcome some massive obstacles.
I’d like to think that I caught courage from Anita.
I’d also like to think that I caught courage from a woman in prison who said that, at that point, she had been drug-free for 25 months. She said that it was the longest amount of time that she had been drug free since she was six years old, when her mother gave her cocaine.
There are so many more stories that I would love to tell and maybe will, once I start writing that book that I’ve decided to write.
I hope that I too have sent out little pieces of courage for others to catch.
Maybe one of those others is you?
And now, my question to you:
Tell me about some experience when you caught courage from someone else. What was that like for you?