Sources of Joy: Public and private courage

I know it’s come under attack from a number of fronts, and I still feel there’s plenty to learn from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.

One of the moments that sticks with me happens when Atticus, the saintly widower protagonist, requires his son Jem to read to dreaded Ms. Dubose, a neighbor whose camelias he had destroyed.

The task was a means to teach his son a lesson about courage.

After Ms. Dubose had died, Atticus tells Jem, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

I’d like to amend Finch’s adage to say that you need not know you’re licked, but the outcome can be uncertain.

I consider myself fortunate to witness and learn regularly about and acts of courage large and small, private and public.

The late President John F. Kennedy wrote memorably about politicians who followed their conscience, often at major consequence to their political fortunes.  

In the past week, Dunreith and I have been taking in Brick City, the Peabody Award-winning documentary that follows Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Police Chief Garry McCarthy as they seek to reverse the often downtrodden city’s fortunes.

Booker in particular puts himself in harm’s way again and again, defying death threats to play basketball in one episode and tackling thorny political and budgetary issues head on in another.

His actions have been lauded as courageous, and rightly so.

And I also am grateful to be around people acting with courage in their private lives.

The strength takes many different forms.

Sharing vulnerability and fear about devastating medical news.

Acting with upbeat fortitude as a child undergoes major surgery and begins a long, arduous and uncertain road to recovery.

Working hard to tackle a task that thus far has been difficult, if not impossible, to master. 

Tending to an ailing spouse without resentment or complaint.

Comforting and being with a dying friend in her final weeks and months. 

Staying with uncertain to delving deep within and search for elusive meaning and clarity of purpose. 

These actions do not garner headlines or public acclaim, but they do matter a lot.

They are important because they allow people to walk with an uplifted head and to look themselves and their loved ones squarely in the eye.

They also let us act on the knowledge that, while we all have flaws and frailties, so do we also have within us the capacity for strength and grace.

These people’s courage inspires and uplifts me.  

I will not name them at this moment, but I will express my gratitude toward them and carry their example with me as I move forward and tackle the challenges I confront in my life. 



One response to “Sources of Joy: Public and private courage

  1. I will too!

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