“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms,” writes G. K. Chesterton. “It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”
Yes, and we wonder, don’t we? We always wonder how much courage we really have, for how can we know until we’re tested?
I still have my draft card. I remember when I was still in high school, Amarillo’s Tascosa High, being required to make the short trip over to an office in the even-then historic Herring Hotel (est. 1927) to register for the draft. As I recall, I made the trip in my old VW beetle. Considering that the Vietnam War was winding down, it was a bit of a somber trip, but not nearly as bad as the trip a number of upper classmen had already made to the hotel, and thence to Vietnam. Guys my age were among the last in that era who had to register at all.
A friend who is nine years older tells me of being in college during that war. He remembers that two groups of guys got drunk on the evening of the lottery: those whose numbers were called, and those whose numbers were not. I’m against drunkenness, but if you want to find someone who blames either group, you’ll need to shop elsewhere.
Had my number been called, and had I been shipped to a jungle on the other side of the world, I can’t help but wonder how successfully I’d have faced, well, whatever I’d have faced. I don’t know. I’m glad I don’t know. But I wonder.
My father-in-law was tested many times in the long years he served in World War II. He led men, fought battles, lay wounded in the snow in Normandy, and came home with medals—and shrapnel. He had “a strong desire to live,” but so did many who died. We’ve got the letter an officer wrote to him in the hospital in England expressing relief that he’d learned that Mick had survived: “That hole in your right chest had me really worried.”
We owe more than we could ever repay to those who made such sacrifices—and to those who still are. We see a bunch of courage still “in the DNA” of those who serve. And, yes, I’m afraid we’ve also seen more prominent in our culture a genetic propensity to selfishness and whining. It’s not really in the genes; a sinful nature is common to us all, but we seem to be uncommonly willing to let ours run loose and be perversely proud of it. Did I mention that we whine a lot? Me, too. I hope we can at least muster enough courage, if that’s what it takes, to be a lot more grateful to folks who didn’t—and folks who don’t—whine. A lot of whining and a lot of gratitude rarely mingle much in the same soul.
Ironic, isn’t it? Sometimes courage means “a readiness to die.” But sometimes it means a readiness to live during the times when it would be easier to die, times when breathing and consciousness bring deep pain, physical or emotional.
A fellow pastor told me recently about preparing a funeral service for a sweet elderly church member he’d known for years. Only after her passing did he learn a number of stories from her earlier life detailing tragedy upon tragedy, any one of which would have been enough to throw most people into lifelong despair. Death would have been easier than life, but she chose life, and hope, and faith.
When my father-in-law died, I watched my mother-in-law and realized how well-matched they were. She went through some very hard years, harder than we realized. But no one who knew her would use the word “whine” in the same paragraph with her name. “If I were the only one this had ever happened to,” she’d say, “maybe I’d have something to complain about.” Oh, I’d have complained long and hard. But she chose life, and hope, and faith.
Do you want to see real courage? Some stories are written on battlefields across the ocean. Some stories are written in police cruisers and fire trucks.
But for some of the best stories, just look around you. How many “ordinary” people are showing extraordinary courage simply by getting out of bed in the face of pain and struggle and heartache? They’re heading to a cancer treatment. Every day they’re caring for a spouse being lost to Alzheimer’s. They’re carrying the grief of the loss of a spouse or the death of dreams for a child.
So many people could easily play the victim, embrace that role, and be defined by it. Almost everyone qualifies on some level. I’m awed by those who quietly choose instead for life, and hope, and faith.
You won’t need a large room with many people in it to be surrounded by more than a few heroes. Just look around. You may not see the medals, but just open your eyes. You’ll see a great deal of courage. Thank God for it. Honor it.
And, by the way, thank you for your courage.
You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!
Copyright 2021 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.