Posted by: trevormeers | July 19, 2012

Getting Out of Bed (and other acts of courage)

It’s funny the things that impress people, even when you’re not trying to wow anybody. A month ago, my wife and I ran across the state as part of a relay team, and people liked to hear the story. I’d hear them telling other people about it. Even guys who compete in Ironman races thought it was pretty cool. A few days later, I and some colleagues unexpectedly had dinner with a guy who’s made billions in an industry that’s a personal passion of mine. A lot of people wanted to hear about that evening.

But when it comes to what impresses me personally, you’ll be digging in vain if you go looking for it under the mountain of Facebook bragging.

In a perfect world, kids would pull down their posters of pro athletes and put up posters of Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his son through innumerable marathons and other races. See their story at http://www.teamhoyt.com.

Take, for example, our recent morning at the Iowa City hospital, which always presents a fresh exercise in wishing you could take your child’s illness for yourself. In the first hour, we talked down a nurse who thought she was supposed to insert a catheter into our daughter’s skull. We dodged that one, but did have to hold Katie in place for a spinal X-ray and read Fancy Nancy’s greatest hits while an ultrasound technician peeked inside her abdomen. After a 30-minute wait in a little room, the neurosurgeon’s assistant showed up to let us know things looked OK.

As always, we drifted through the hospital on an endless stream of people rolling by in wheelchairs, pushing IV poles to the coffee shop and struggling to keep it together after a chat with a doctor.

You just don’t get a lot of requests to reel off those stories at cookouts, or the new ones I seem to stumble across every day.

A running partner told me about how he helped a wounded veteran walk for miles in the sands of New Mexico at the Bataan Memorial Death March. Among the soldier’s supplies for the hike was a bag that did the work his intestines handled before a bomb had its say. Other soldiers in the marathon had partners helping them every few miles as they added more moleskin to the painful junction where the stumps of their legs met prosthetics.

In a recent meeting, I heard about a grandfather who’s been at the Ronald McDonald House for 85 days, tending to his 5-year-old grandson after a car accident. The kids’ friends will start kindergarten in a month, and this boy’s family hopes that by then, he may be walking across the room and speaking again.

Every time I go to the hospital, every time I’m in the Ronald McDonald House, every time my friend from the National Guard talks about comrades with PTSD, I think of the message of the Greek thinker Seneca. “Sometimes,” he said, “even to live is an act of courage.”

Ask anyone who’s been on chemo. Or struggled with a mental disability. Or faced the year-upon-year abyss of lacking food, medicine and clean water. Or grieved a dream crushed by any of the preceding items. It takes guts to get out of bed every day with no promise that this one will be better than the last.

Courageous people don’t have any special immunity to fear. Their sense of dedication is just stronger than fear.

That kind of utterly everyday perseverance wins my admiration every time. Why don’t more people feel the same? Plain old disinterest always has its way, of course. But somewhere in the mix is the fact that quite a few people with small problems–at least those who RECOGNIZE that they have only small problems–have somehow convinced themselves that anyone with really big struggles must be a special breed that handles pain better than the rest. Growing up around farmers, you hear a lot about how animals don’t feel pain like we do. How else could a calf survive a branding and castration? It seems like many people have similarly decided to put the suffering of their neighbors out of mind because, hey, it can’t possibly be that bad for them. Nobody with normal pain tolerance and typical emotions could handle that, right?

When you have a child with chronic health problems, your skin never gets thick enough, but it at least grows accustomed to the callous remarks of others. Still, we’ve never forgotten one Teri heard in the church nursery years ago as she sat exhausted from sleeping two hours a night and trying to nurture a kid who vomited up everything she ate five times a day. From a nearby chair, a soccer mom said, “With my kids, God blessed me with short labors because He knew I didn’t have the strength to handle any more than that.”

Apparently God holds some kind of cosmic Navy SEAL tryout so He can spot the hard-core types and send them off to the sternest tests. If we’d known, we would’ve sandbagged the exam, taken our “soft” label and gracefully exited to go enjoy a trouble-free life.

Back here in the real world, try to understand this about courageous people: They hurt, too. They’re scared. They’re tired. They don’t understand why this is happening to them. But they keep going anyway. They crawl on, past the point where lesser souls decide they didn’t bargain for this and quit if they can, or sulk if they can’t.

Don’t think I want anyone to walk away feeling guilty. There’s nothing productive there. Instead, go find the person near you who is fighting the good fight, probably with no one but their immediate family noticing. You probably won’t have to look far. Don’t tell them their courage impresses you; ego boosts, like sympathy, don’t buy much in the economy they live in. Instead, tell them they’ve inspired you to go do more with the strength you’ve been blessed with. Tell them you’re going to do more for them, then ask what they need rather than deciding for yourself. Speaking personally, I find that pretty impressive.

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Responses

  1. Powerful column Trevor. Thanks for sharing. Hope you and the fam are doing well.

    Dave


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