Courage In the Midst of Fear
Author's Note: Though this picture is not very flattering, it is one of my favorite pictures of all time. It shows life. Two friends who shared life. Who shared fear. Two courageous people who understood life from a very different perspective that most have a chance to share. This picture was taken after many tears were shed with Jeff on 12/18/2010. I share our story of that day below.
What does having courage mean to you?
Growing up I was taught to be afraid of everything. Shame and guilt were my constant companion. So, I learned to act as if I had no fear. Joining the military was part of that process for me. And in the military, we were taught to "suck it up." It was not acceptable to have fear. Instead, we were to be courageous.
I think that we have been lied to in that regard, because fear is a natural emotion. But fear is when we are given the chance to act by showing courage in the face of fear.
Several years ago, my friend, Jeff was facing the end of his life. Jeff was 31 years old and he had been diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer. His wife, Cherrissa, called me and asked me to go talk to him. They married in the hospital chapel earlier that month. She told me that he "has given up."
It was December 18, 2010 and he had been battling this wretched disease since before his diagnosis eight months earlier.
I feared going to see him. I had already dealt with watching another friend die at the age of 41 several months earlier. I was not sure what I could say to him that would be of value. I did not want to be around death again.
When I asked Cherrissa what she wanted me to do or say to him, her response was simply, "Talk to him like you talk to me."
I faced my fear that day to make my way up to the floor where he was lying in his bed and hooked up to machines. He joked around when I came into the room. Then I asked him how he was doing and he answered with an obligatory, "Fine."
"If you were fine, then Cherrissa would not have called me to come see you. So let's cut the bullshit. It's just you and me. How are you?"
"I'm scared. They (the doctors) told me I would not see Christmas."
I became angry and said, " I wish I could come across the table and choke the living shit out of whomever said that to you, because no one knows when it is your last day. But let's assume, for the moment, that is true. You have four days. What are you going to do with them?"
I could not believe what I heard come out of my mouth. I was afraid that I had over-stepped a boundary that was not mine to push. But I said those words, feeling that someone had to say them.
I asked him if he had said the things he needed to say to his three children, ages 9, 7, and 4. Had he written the letters he wanted them to read when they became of age. Had he told those who be left behind how much he loved and appreciated who they were to him. Had he said all the things that needed to be said to those he has met on life's journey?
And then I said, "Your children, Cherrissa, your friends and family, and everyone else you know, are not watching you die, Jeff. They are watching you live. They are watching you live as you face death to this cancer. You are teaching them how to live their lives and that is the legacy you get to leave. That is how you will be remembered. For four days, four months, four years, you are showing them how to live in the face of adversity. They will remember you from these moments."
Jeff lived for another month, not the four days that he was told he had. He passed away on January 20, 2011. He lived that last month with courage to do and say the things that he needed to do and say.
Dr. Randolph Ek tells us, "You do not have to feel courage to act courageously. True courage moves forward with nothing more than a glimpse of hope."
Sometimes that hope is for others to be able to live courageously in spite of what life will throw your way. And how we live is what others will remember and carry on to teach the next generations. Courage is simply something that you choose to do in spite of fear.
Think of when you have had the most courage. Think of others you know who have shown the most courage. Who has inspired you the most?
Source: If You're Not Happy, You're Doing It Wrong: The ABC's of Life by Randolph W. Ek
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Copyright © 2015 Coral Levang
Adapted from original, "Courage" posted on Bubblews in 2014, but since removed by author.
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