Posted by: suekenney | April 21, 2012

A Slightly Different Take on Courage

We went to a funeral this past week, for the mother of a very good friend of ours.  His mom – “Ma” as he and his siblings called her – was 75, mother of 6, grandmother of 21, great-grandmother of 17.  In her younger years she had helped her husband run a farm and had done a lot of waitressing.  A very active woman.

Twenty-two years ago, “Ma” suffered a debilitating stroke.  She almost didn’t survive it.  She went through extensive rehab.  The rest of her life was spent in a wheelchair, and her speech was always slurred and difficult.  Yet she maintained a smile, a sense of humor, and an active interest in the lives of her family and those around her.  She and her husband still traveled a fair amount, mostly in the last few years to Florida and back; they spent their winters down there.  She was a wonderful woman, as could be witnessed by all the people who came out for the calling hours and then the funeral; she had touched so many lives, not just in her family.

But I don’t want to talk about “Ma.”  I want to talk about her husband, “Pa.”  Just a gruff old ex-farmer, one might say at first glance; or a rough mechanic.  Maybe not the greatest conversationalist, or the deepest intellect.  But for 22 years, he stayed at his wife’s side, through all the pain and fear and doubt; through all the therapies, and then the great changes of life in a wheelchair.  He was there for her every meal – every morning when she awoke – every evening when she went to bed. He devoted his life to this invalid woman.   He never distanced himself emotionally from her, even when times were really hard.  He loved her dearly, and his actions never gave you any doubts that he did.

There aren’t too many men (or women, for that matter) who would do such a thing – without complaining!  These days, divorce seems so easy and so rampant.  Marriage is all too frequently viewed as something that will benefit ME, and as soon as that benefit stops, so does my commitment to that marriage.  And to stick with someone who can never “give back,” at least in a physical sense, seems the height of stupidity in our self-centered society.

Just last Sunday, our pastor’s sermon was about courage – part of a series he and others have been preaching from his book, For Such a Time as This. One of the things he said was that to be courageous, you don’t have to be perfect.  I’m sure “Pa” wasn’t perfect; I’m sure he had his bad days in there.  But the main thing is that he stayed, for 22 years.

What’s courage got to do with that? Isn’t courage the ability to face danger without fear?  Or at least with only a very little? Isn’t courage something you find mainly in policemen and firemen and soldiers, as they face dangerous and stressful situations?  Something just for heroes?  The World Dictionary online defines courage as “the power or quality of dealing with or facing danger, fear, pain, etc.”  By that definition, courage is something that we all can exhibit every day, in all manner of situations.  We don’t need to be a public “hero” to have courage. 

 Aren’t we often shown instances of a person exhibiting great courage by leaving a bad marriage, striking out on his or her own?  Sure; and I won’t deny that there can be great courage in such actions.  But think of this:  how much courage did “Pa” show by staying with “Ma” for over two decades, when he could so easily have gone off and pursued his own ambitions, desires, abilities?  I’d say a lot – courage mixed with perseverance, mixed with a love that wasn’t based on external apprearance but on internal qualities.  “Pa” is my kind of hero – a man who does what is right and good against great odds.

Does “Pa” feel like a hero?  Probably not.  Probably hasn’t for the past twenty-two years either.  Most heroes don’t feel very heroic.For instance, the mayor of Newark, NJ, who recently ran into a burning building to rescue a woman – in an interview afterward, he said he wished he could say he had felt great courage at the time, but frankly, he was just terrified.  Well, that’s my point – only a truly courageous person goes ahead and does something when all his or her emotions are screaming otherwise.  That mayor showed GREAT courage, and is a true hero; “Pa” showed great courage and is a true hero as well.  May we all learn to step away from our comfort zones, from our preconceptions, and from our throbbing emotions, to do what is right and good.


  1. Thanks Sue – a fitting tribute to a truly courageous man. He will need lots of loving from his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren now that the focus of his existence for the past 22 years has gone. God bless that family!

  2. […] A Slightly Different Take on Courage ( […]

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