During the past few years, I have learned a lot about courage from my parents, who face extraordinary day-to-day challenges with patience and grace.
By anyone’s standards, my father would have been considered brave when he was a young man. He was in the Navy during World War II and was aboard two ships that were sunk. He earned a Purple Heart for injuries that he later sustained in the South Pacific. But when family and friends ask about his experiences in the War, he’s likely to say that during battles he was too busy doing his job to be frightened, and between battles there were periods of mind-numbing boredom.
Over 25 years ago, my father lost the sight in his left eye, and then the sight in his right eye began deteriorating. He can no longer see the face of my mother; he cannot see the television screen; he cannot see the food on his plate. He loved to read, but today, with his hearing almost gone – a result of a burst eardrum that he suffered in the war – even listening to books on tape is difficult and frustrating for him.
As if that were not enough, my father is waging another battle now. His brain has stopped sending signals to his legs and feet consistently. Walking is an arduous chore for him, and he depends on my mother to help guide his walker or sometimes push his wheelchair through the rooms of the house. Sometimes his legs fail to support him altogether, and he falls. His arms and legs and shoulders are always covered with purple and yellow bruises.
My mother has had her own health problems to confront. When she was in her late 70’s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which had already spread to her bones. The diagnosis was, of course, devastating, but my mother’s faith sustained her. She told me that she prayed that she would have the strength to endure whatever happened. She did not pray for life but for courage. Fortunately, she was granted both.
Howie Mandel, the host of the television show Deal or No Deal, often asks contestants: “Do you have the guts to go on?” I suspect if I asked my parents: “How have you had the guts to go on?” they would each say: “What choice do I have?” But they do have choices in how they respond to what has happened to them. They could complain or be bitter, or they could be consumed with self-pity. They could ask “Why me?” but they have never asked that unanswerable question.
This I believe, that there is a special kind of courage that has nothing to do with adrenaline rushes or winning medals or awards, nothing even to do with heroism in the face of imminent danger. It is the courage to face daily challenges. It is having to guts to go on.
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