Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Courage has been described as not the 'absence of fear', but doing the right thing in spite of fear. I think about this as I've had my share of fear and on occasion acted courageously.

I'm afraid a lot but I've mostly ignored my fears or resisted the temptation to give in to them and instead done what seemed the 'right' thing even though doing the right thing carries with it so much obvious risk and as often as not pain.

Today I remember things like rafting on ice flows on the Red River during break up, hopping on strangers cars and being towed along the icy roads at 50 mph, phoning my first girl for a date, winter camping, canoeing Lake Winnipeg in the winds, asking the first girl to dance, standing in front of the classes, stepping first time onto the big stage, playing guitar in front of the crowd, sharing poetry, facing up to the school bully and fighting back, defending myself from the first kid who tried to knife me, facing down the first gun pointed in my face, remaining calm, talking steady and standing my place, not running, feeling the brass knuckles hit my face even as I was throwing the guy over my shoulder, taking the chains across my shoulder, not crying out being strapped, not complaining being caned, having sex for the first time, diving for cover the first time I was shot at, making my way cool headed to safety, rescuing the drowning person, doing mouth to mouth rescue on strangers, putting out the fire, standing with the others holding back the forest fire, facing the gangs alone or outnumbered, fighting free, not leaving a friend when all I wanted to do was flee, facing the bear in the berry patch, punching the bear in the tent, applying for university, proposing, sitting down for the exam and completing the test, asking the questions in chemistry and anatomy when others laughed and I knew they couldn't know the answer, finding the questions the professors didn't know, cutting the first chest, putting first intraspinal needle, so many firsts alone in medicine and surgery and elsewhere alone when the teacher and mentor is no longer present, being alone in the woods miles from all others wilderness camping, climbing the mountain cliff, slipping, the night in the igloos, being stalked by the polar bear, facing the grizzly and backing away with only a bow in my hand bird hunting, setting that first shoulder dislocation at the rodeo, delivering the first baby outside of the university, delivering the first baby alone, delivering twins, using forceps to free the baby's head in a northern hospital with only a nurse, wrestling with the dangerously insane person trying to kill me, facing loaded threatening guns again and again, having that fellow put the rifle in my face and pull the trigger thinking there were bullets in his gun and I'd removed them, being in court, answering the judge, so many times alone at sea, hurricane force winds, the hospital, and sickness, facing the knife myself, the greatest terror in waiting, wanting to die but living, being knocked down alone over and over again in 40 foot seas, facing the wolverine without a weapon and staring it down, punching the pit bull, leaving her, going to the lab for the examination and waiting for the results, standing naked and alone waiting, imprisoned, being under the power of the incompetents and sociopath depending on and being fooled by psychopaths, so many nights and days without help, alone and without sleep, the plane crash, the car crashes, the motorcycle crashes, the bicycle crashes, the moments before you know it's all going sideways and you just hold on. Waiting for rescue. Lying very still. Rescuing so many people, over and over and over again. Touching the diseased, breathing their air, immersing yourself in their bodily fluids and thoughts,being alone in a room with the emotionally out of control, working in the prison and the asylum, holding the person trying to harm you and not harming them, over and over and over again, asking the right question when it would be so much easier to fudge and fib and fabricate. Not cutting corners when it would be easier and safer, yet wrong. Doing the drill. Getting on to the horse after the galloping throw. Taking the high speed turn on the motorcycle and refusing to give into the fear, doing the counterintuitive, breaking the rules because they're wrong and would kill, finding the motorcycle brakes gone on the icy downhill road, sommersaulting the car 180 degrees in the air when the other highway driver tried to pass on black ice and failed, being lost in the blizzard, going through ice and walking miles in frozen clothes to save the old man, making love.

It seems a long list some days and short others. There are so many more times more frightening and even more courageous. Somehow I've carried on. I don't know ever if I'll have courage the next time though. It's always surprised me that I've gone on. I've often been shocked looking back. I sometimes look back at how foolish it was. Volunteering for the dirty and dangerous. Going where no one else would go but where there was a need and commitment. Telling the truth over and over and over again when lying would be so rewarding and so much easier.

I am awed by my father and his friends. At 91 he faces each day not knowing whether he'll make it or what the day will bring. Illness is harder on him. It's easier to forget or get lost. He's shown more courage than I can imagine because I've always known him as the most courageous man and I never knew him when younger he made even more of a name for himself.

I trust my fear. It's at the very core of my being. It's the worry I know and yet over and over again I've done the right thing. I've faced the fear and done just the right thing to come through alive. Those who've been where I've been attest that they know what I did was right. The very proof is in my survival. The fact is I have thrived. Those who've never been have silly ideas that mostly come from fantasy. They watch too much television and read romantic stories. The silliest who know the least insist they could have prevented or avoided such and such events. Their lives are spent hiding in priviledged bunkers living lives loud with quiet desperation. They simply don't know.

There's a humility that comes with courage. Arrogance thrives in ignorance. I'm afraid, really afraid, and though I have been known for my courage, I seem only to trust the fear. I know the fear will be there when I'm doing the next right thing.

It's a strange fear that's somehow wrapped up in faith. As I grow older I can only hope I'll have half the courage of my elders.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

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