I believe that each act of courage affects us all. When I became a father, I knew I wanted to teach about living life courageously, even if I did not always meet my own standards. So I raised my children on the stories that would inspire them.
We stayed up late to hear about how Martin the Warrior, that fierce Redwall mouse, could undo any cat or weasel. They knew of Frodo and Sam’s walk through the Morgul Vale long before those hobbits were movie stars. And they walked with Taran as he found his way , high into the mountains, to discover the shape of his own face. They heard of Cuchullin and how he strapped his body to a stone plinth so that he could continue to defend his people. I read them Jataka Tales wherein the animal incarnation of the Buddha gave his life for others. They always knew that the underdog was the man to watch, because he might have that hidden quality of moral courage.
My son, Conor, has loved the world’s best game, soccer, since he could kick the ball. He never gave up on the ball. It was his strongest virtue as a player- perseverence. He would tackle the same ball three times. I called him “Skeeter” because he was small but he just kept coming back to sting them again. He dreamed of being a hero and leading his team to victory. And I? I dreamed of being there to watch.
Then, suddenly, in the bizarre way that children grow up and become young men and women, it was my son’s senior year. Here he was; co-captain of his team; striker- the fast one up top, ready to put the ball in the back of the net. He had a hat trick in the first game, and the Sectionals Championship was an achievable dream, something our Midlakes team had never done. Then, in the third game, a slide tackle in the rain and a sickening snap. He lay on the wet field screaming, steaming in the mud of his last game this season. And I know that the pain was as much from the certain knowledge of loss as it was from the three breaks in the tibia and fibula. There was nothing I could do but hold him close and say “I know, I know,” over and over, as he howled and wept our shared rage and fear and marrow-deep grief of what would not be.
Ten days later, after the pain of surgery and recovery, he did the hardest thing he had yet been asked to do in his 17 years: he put on his jersey and his Captain’s arm-band, and he went back out on the field. Side-lined with a steel rod in his leg, he watched. He yelled encouragement. He advised the younger kids. He showed up for each game, and I knew it hurt. The word, courage, is from the French word “cour”- the heart. He encouraged. He gave heart.
The next three games were disaster as the boys tried to close up the hole left by my son. I’m not normally a braggart, but they needed Con, and he couldn’t play on the field. But he showed up as if he was ready to play. He stood with the others, and in that simple act, he modeled what it was to not give up. To not let something important get away. And the team came back, together. They found ways. The Midlakes Team has always had a reputation for starting well, but then giving up, letting victory slip by. Not now. They clawed their way back and made it to Sectionals. For the first time in memory they won their first Sectional game in a nail-biting 1-0 victory. I could hear Con screaming his heart out for his ‘mates from the bench on other side of the field. What I could not know was that , in the last five minutes, as the Midlakes boys held the line, he was crying as well as cheering. As I was too.
I believe that his subtle courage was the 12th man on the field. I believe that my son, in the spirit of Martin and Taran, Cuchullin and Frodo, made his contribution to victory, because courage matters. It always matters.
Tonight, as I write this, they are engaged in the semi-finals game. I am not there, but as Conor is with them on the field, I am with him, writing this. Because every act of courage matters. This I believe.
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