Courage is not for the faint of heart.
Acts of courage are often attributed to wartime and daring feats of bravery when fighting against all odds to rescue someone, something; and of course there is action, lots of action. Yet, every day, courage finds itself in the most unlikely places; within the meekest. Battlefields come in many forms. Wars are fought, and damsels are rescued right in front of us or just slightly to the side of our daily path—and heroes are born.
For nearly seven years i have tried to remember the name of a young woman who epitomized courage and something even more admirable —unselfishness. She had a simple, sweet, girl-next-door name. i think it was Doris. We met her in those early days of September ’05 after the City had become more lake than land. She was alone and living in the “wet sector” of Treme.
She came to our French Quarter apartment (heard we were dog lovers) with the hope that we’d take on another dog, one she’d found running loose. But we were already in over our heads with seven dogs and cats dependent upon us. She understood, but requested one favor we might be able to handle: could she borrow a bolt cutter.
Next door to her there was another dog, one that had been left chained. it was an impossibly short chain with barely enough slack for her to place him up on a milk crate to avoid drowning. There had been a female mate with their puppies (untethered) which had already been safely removed by Doris. Boyfriend offered his help and accompanied her back. Walking from dry ground into those fetid waters (shallow for us but not for a certain dog) she offhandedly mentioned that the dog was a Pit. a chained Pit used for breeding, possibly abused, conjured up some apprehensions. We were profiling this dog.
The dog, however, had no preconceived notions about Doris or Boyfriend. The Pit was submissive, gentle and very frightened. He knew to let Boyfriend pull and jerk the chain about his neck until the cutter could finally snap through.
Through all of this Doris simply wanted to save some dogs. not once did she ask for a way out, a drink of water, dry shoes. nothing—except to borrow a pair of bolt cutters. and despite the very real chance of having his hand bitten off, Boyfriend never hesitated, never missed a beat. and all i did was tag along wanting to be as far away from them as possible, hating that goddamn water, and seeing (fearing) every desperate person we passed as threat. i wanted back, high and dry in the Quarter. i had no courage. But Doris did, she lived those days with honor. and Boyfriend was able to grant her wish of saving a small life.
You have to know fear to appreciate courage. Only then can you (could i) know how much strength it takes to rise to the call, the need, the occasion. i had my moments, proud ones, but not enough—they were never enough. Doris may never have known she was brave; perhaps it was just second nature to her… but she will always stand tall in my memory.
From japan to joplin, earthquakes to droughts, moments are created when folks find that spark of valor within. and whether they pull a family from an attic, lift a woman from the rubble or save a trapped dog, they make all our lives the better for it; and we all stand a bit taller.
Everyday life requires bravery. Like the little girl, lost in a department store, holding back her tears, trying not to wet her pants, bravely waiting for the store manger to locate her frantic parents over the intercom as her name sounds out for all of Wal-mart to hear. She is terrified she will never be found and mortified at all the attention. Yet she remains “big and tall” so her parents will be proud of how grown up she is for five. She is safe; but not until her parents rush in from aisle 5 does she believe she’ll ever see them again. But no tears…not until she can bury her head within her mom’s arms.
Jazz Fest might not seem like a venue for courage, for taking chances, but for a performer’s debut it’s like Carnegie Hall. much rides on this moment in terms of reaching a larger audience and being invited back. Talent is not always enough — it takes guts.
Stage fright is a terrifying condition of nerves, fear, nausea, with legs that turn to rubber. and it can happen far away from the bright lights of a stage. my friend, confined to a wheel chair, went to his first jazz Fest. He was alone at the gate, the shuttle gone, and no ticket (until i could find him in the crowd 30 minutes later). This was an adventure as intimidating as you arriving in a foreign country with no language skills or passport. But my friend never lost his smile or his verve as he traveled through his new experience.
It takes courage to walk into a bank, ask for a loan, and start a new business. it requires guts to leave an abusive husband or stand before a room full of strangers and say: “i am an alcoholic.” When we fail to rise to the occasion, we diminish a bit of ourselves. But, man oh man, how high we fly when we find that moment of tenacity, that brave heart.