Courage isn’t just for those charging into a fusillade of shot.
Nor is it the sole property of those storming a burning building or fording rushing waters.
Courage can come in response to a less dramatic challenge, like the height of a curb, the steepness of steps, the darkness of a room or the silence of a screaming crowd.
I learned that over a decade ago on a self-pitying afternoon at a stoplight in Coral Springs, Florida.
My mother was dying in a most inconvenient manner, slowly, in a nursing home at $6,500 a month.
Life’s conundrums are no fun. This one was particularly painful. Love of parent. Wanting more time. Another year, another month, maybe just a few more weeks. Not wanting her to suffer another day. No desire to watch her life savings and perhaps my own get sucked into the hungry drain of medical care.
It makes you feel small and helpless to think that way — combining love and money in the same confused ball of emotions.
There I sat, wracked with such anxiety that I was gripping the steering wheel of my car until it felt like it would snap in my hands. Then I saw the young woman crossing the intersection of Coral Springs Avenue and Sample Road.
She was pretty; maybe 16, carrying schoolbooks and wearing tight blue jeans, riding in her motorized wheelchair across the intersection. Behind her she towed a friend in his no-frills wheelchair.
I watched this odd wagon train of self-determination and compassion move to the corner and await the next light change. I said to myself, “Well, I guess things could be worse.”
Mother Nature decided to help prove my point. It started to rain, one of those slow-starting, big-drop Florida pours that hit the ground with hefty thuds, making leopard-spot designs on the dry pavement.
The two kids just sat unfazed, waiting for the light to turn. It did, and I drove away.
It was a sorry way to have an epiphany. There is a Jewish expression: “Life isn’t meant to be easy. Life is just meant to be life.” I’m 63, and, like most people, my life has had a lot of great times but also broken hearts, beaten egos, pain, pressure, hard decisions and some bad luck.
But as bad as it can get, it’s not like sitting in a wheelchair in the rain.
In society the politically correct term for the young people I saw is “challenged.”
But in the end, it is the rest of us who are challenged by their courage, a courage that denies pity and refuses to succumb to those who believed they would never get up again. — Kamenitz lives in New Orleans
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