I believe in courage.
In nineteen-seventy I was playing trumpet in a student musical show touring Europe. The Vietnam war raged on. Opposition to the war, and anger at the U.S. government, grew stronger at home and abroad.
We arrived in Paris to learn that protesters had threatened to disrupt our opening night performance.
That night, as the house lights dimmed, angry voices stirred in the audience.
In the orchestra pit the conductor raised his arms to start the overture. He looked to the wings for the stage manager’s cue.
He slowly lowered his arms.
“I’ll be damned,” he said. “Shriver.”
Sargent Shriver was U.S. Ambassador to France. In the Kennedy administration he had served as the first director of the Peace Corps. He had been scheduled to introduce the show, but given the threat of violence, we had assumed he would cancel.
I heard later what happened next.
Offstage the embassy staff pleaded with Shriver to cancel, or to introduce the show from a microphone backstage. You’re crazy to go out there, they said. It only takes one fanatic with a gun—
“I said I was going to introduce this show,” Shriver said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
He walked on stage, alone.
Boos and shouts erupted from the protesters.
In the middle of the hall somebody waved a large red flag.
Shriver walked to the center stage microphone. He stood just above where I sat in the orchestra pit.
He spoke first in French, then in English. Our sound system carried his clear, firm voice over the tumult in the theater.
“Good evening”, he said. “I’m honored to introduce this group of young people from the United States and around the world. In your country and in mine we believe that people should be free to speak. Some people here tonight demand that right for themselves, but they would deny it to others …”
The uproar grew louder.
Shriver paused and reached up to adjust the microphone.
His hand was trembling.
In a steady voice he finished his introduction, turned, and walked offstage.
That night I learned that courage is not the absence of fear. In the face of danger, the absence of fear is a kind of insanity. Courage is feeling the fear yet summoning the strength to go on.
The word “courage” comes from the Latin word for “heart.” The heart is home to both courage and love.
When fear seizes us, those are the only forces that can free us—courage and love.
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