Mary Beth Writes

5/22/2024

Courage.

I’m writing fiction this week. I started a story in December that, along the way, turned into a Memorial Day story. It will be my Substack story this Saturday.

This morning I looked for an old newspaper column to rerun and found this one about a time when one of our kids needed to have four teeth pulled.

So then I needed a pix and while surfing for courgae photos, came across this iconic photograph. I looked up its backstory which it will break your heart. The six Marines erecting the flag are very young. Four of them died in the ensuing battles on Iwo Jima and two were wounded. One, Ira Hayes, was a member of Akimel O’odham people and survived the war but not his PTSD,

Courage.

11/9/2001

This week our 4th grader had four baby teeth extracted because they were blocking the emergence of permanent teeth. Our older kids have gone through this. I even remember the dentist of my childhood telling my mother that I had some of the slowest teeth he'd ever known.

Who wants fast teeth?

No matter, it's scary to get through big dental procedures.  One needs some courage.

Our society has changed a great deal since September 11 and we're looking at courage again. We're awed by the heroic bravery displayed by so many people on that day and in events that have followed. There are those haunting photographs of firefighters running up the stairs of the doomed World Trade Center Towers. Where does that kind of courage come from?

All we had to do was help our whippersnapper get through an hour in the dentist's chair. I watched how our family coped. I wanted to see a bud of courage as it bloomed.

This is what I saw.

First of all, we didn't waffle on the basic issue. The teeth had had two years to pop on their own and it didn't happen so the dentist’s recommendation made sense. We were sympathetic but no amount of wheedling or whining was going to make the need to go to the dentist disappear.

There is something comforting about that. One doesn't need to be courageous to prove a point. In fact, one should be sure that the situation is real and necessary. The heroes of September 11 didn't get up in the morning asking themselves, "How can I be heroic today?"

No, it was simply “Gotta go to work." I don't think real heroes choose heroic behavior. They just do the job that's in front of them, no matter what.

We did go out of our way to give our child some control over the Looming Moment. I asked them how much advance warning they wanted about the appointment. They decided they’d like to know a day or two before. That seemed sensible. Why spend two weeks worrying about something when you can cram your panic into 36 hours?

When we finally revealed their imminent destiny, we did it when the whole family happened to be together. I figured they’d do better if they could bounce their anxiety off all of us.

A sibling immediately lit into a story of the time they had "happy gas" aka nitrous oxide and they sounded like an ex-hippie fondly recalling hallucinogenic trips of yore. Soon we were all, including the kid facing the dental work, laughing.

That conversation was when I began to notice how this courage stuff works. People sit around telling non-heroic tales of past exploits. Affection is in the air as well as a can-do sense of swagger and a high-jinx sense of survival. No one told my kid they had to be brave. Instead we told them about times we were scared out of our gourds, too, but how it worked out okay in the end.

I began to intuit that part of the bravery of American rescue services is simply that those folks don't work relentlessly. In fact, what one hears is that much of the workday of firefighters, police and ambulance staffers is quiet. Of course they take care of equipment and do paperwork. But they also have time to talk as they do those chores. In the telling of their stories of bravery and foolishness they share attitudes of competence, gumption, and valor under pressure. They get used to thinking of themselves as men and women who will risk a lot, but in smart ways. They build their sense of who they are and what they can accomplish.

Well, the day of the deed arrived. My husband drove our sheet-white kid to the dentist. He stayed in the room while she got through what needed to be endured.

They did okay and later told me later they were so scared when the dentist began that their legs were shaking. A few tears rolled. But they sat without fussing or fighting and let the dentist work. The ordeal was soon over.

The smile of this kid is different now. Their cute snaggle teeth are gone and they look older. I can see the handsome young person they are on their way to becoming.

Courage is a funny thing. It isn't a characteristic that a person either has or doesn't have, like curly hair. It isn't a self-important virtue reserved for self-important people. In fact, doesn't it seem as if much of the courage in this world comes to us via ordinary people? I guess it's a relief to know we don't have to be handsome or brilliant in order to be people of gumption.

I think true courage rides in on stories. We hear stories of other peoples' nerves, goof-ups, last minute fixes, and survival. We take those stories into ourselves. Then when our moment comes we hang on, sit still, close our eyes to the pain, open our eyes to what comes next. We do what needs to be done. We charge into the fray and up the stairs. We prevail.

Later on they tell us we have courage. We smile our new smiles.

 

 

 

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Comments

Love family stories. Good points about courage, seems as we age, we need more and more of it! Good friends and courage can get you through most anything!

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What the Dickens?

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