Growing up, I associated courage with brave deeds and actions: John Glenn for rocketing to the moon, my cousin for diving off the high board, and, of course, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin for fighting the evil agents of CHAOS. As a comic book and movie lover, it’s not surprising that I thought the way I did. People admired Batman for swooping in to foil the Joker; John Wayne may not have always gotten the girl, but he almost always won the gunfight or the battle.
This is no earth-shattering revelation, but of course those romanticized and Hollywood influenced versions of courage only tell one small slice of the story. Once I came to understand that my true writing passion is historical fiction, my reading and research revealed to me many, many examples of genuine courage.
Sometimes the expression of courage is a small thing: a busy construction worker who cared for a stray dog and cat after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, despite his boss’ disapproval. This courageous (and kind) action inspired Mary Nethery and me to write Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival.
Or like Reverend Emery Andrews who, at tremendous personal cost, not only spoke out against the “relocation” of people of Japanese descent during WWII, he left his church and uprooted his family to Twin Falls, Idaho, to help those who were incarcerated in Minidoka War Relocation Camp. Though he was spit upon, shoved out of cafes and even evicted from his first Twin Falls home, he never faltered in his desire and efforts to help. Thinking about what it would have been like to have such a man for a father led me to write The Fences Between Us.
Kay gave birth to her first child in the camp; after the delivery, she brought her infant “home” to rough barracks, equipped only with Army-supplied cots and a pot belly stove. Any other furniture in the “apartment” was made from scavenged scrap wood. With a babe in arms, Kay waited in long lines for meals – slogging through mud in winter, wilting in blistering heat and dust in summer – and at the latrines, (initially nothing more than modesty-robbing ten-hole outhouses) and laundry house. Can you imagine washing diapers in such an environment?
Kay is now in her 90s and I was present when someone asked her if she was bitter or angry about what had happened to her as a young mother. (I agreed with the asker that I certainly would have been!). Kay smiled a gentle and serene smile and said that she had long ago realized that the only person hurt by holding a grudge or being bitter was herself. “I choose to live with joy,” she said.
When I think about all she lived through and all she has to be angry about, Kay’s life philosophy seems to me the supreme definition of courage.
Thank you, Kirby! I love being reminded that joy is a choice. What about you? Have you faced a difficult time choosing to forgive someone? Do you remember a time when you made a definite choice for joy, rather than resentment or frustration?
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