“The definition of courage is grace under pressure.”
~ Ernest Hemingway
It’s easy to see courage when I’m looking through a window but hard to find when I’m looking in a mirror.
When I tell you what I need courage for, I can almost guarantee, it’ll seem small to you. But, for me, at this time in my life, a very complicated and real challenge.
Agreeing to write a column for the Dispatch presses against my comfort zone. Even if I choose the topics, 725 words is a lot to come up with every week!
What if I run out of things to say?
What if I don’t say the things I want to say well?
What if deadline arrives with no neatly typed copy to submit so worthless dribble appears in Wednesday’s paper with my name accepting the byline?
What if Alan V. or Tony W. or Dale M. don’t like my opinions and confute me publicly with Golden Quill letters?
I’ve always liked words. Written or spoken. The early Greeks believed that words held magical power and I’m tempted to agree. I’ve seen even the littlest of morphemes hurt or heal. Inspire laughter as well as anger. Make a difference or waste time. Reflect the speaker in the eyes of the listener.
I like to spend them wisely. To inform or encourage. To teach or inspire.
It really upsets me when I fritter them away. I’m still reliving a couple of social occasions when I talked too much, blathered away artlessly, or made stupid jokes. As my friend Phyllis always says, “It’s better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
I’ve decided that this wall of ambivalence about public words can be scaled by pasting my fears over the views I see from my window. There I see …
… the face of my mother and father-in-law. After 62 years of marriage, they’re downsizing from a 3,500-square-foot home on a beautiful country hill to a 1,400-square-foot immobile mobile. They’ve been selling, giving, and tossing away things for the last two months and still have so much to sort and pack or release. To those of us trying to help, it’s just a lot of “stuff” that has to be dealt with in some kind of fashion. We try to hurry the process and get frustrated when mom and dad triple handle some little item.
We forget that, to them, each of these “things” is a memory with a story behind it. Yes, they tell us, they know it was put in the “sell” pile but they just have to pull it out and handle it one more time before it’s gone for good. They’re bravely (all be it, slowly) saying “good-bye” to yesterday and courageously facing their down-sized tomorrows.
… the face of that handsome high school graduate who quietly announces that he plans to enlist in the army. Other Wilsons have served in the armed forces but that doesn’t make it any easier for him to tell his family that it’s his turn to go. “It’s not just my duty to serve my country,” he tells them, “it’s my destiny.” Even with the Iraq war looming on the horizon, he signs up, trains, and leaves Gilroy’s safe borders.
… the faces of soldiers’ moms all over town. Their dreams for their sons and daughters – college, a job in Silicon Valley, 1.9 grandchildren living around a Gilroy corner – fade and leave a hole in their hearts that not even patriotic pride can fill. They want to keep their heroes home; instead, they bless them and say “good-bye” so that their children can create their own dreams in far off places.
… the face of my friend while she lay dying of breast cancer. Nine years of surgery, shots, tests, and gallons of poison left her weak but still unhealed. “I’d rather live,” she says, “but it’s time to die.” And, so she did.
Those types of visions force me to face the fears I see in the mirror with determination and courage.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Courage isn’t the lack of fear. It’s acting in spite of it.”
I’ll probably never know if those I admire are afraid; what I do know is that they moved forward no matter how they felt. And … so will I.
Bonnie Evans has lived in Gilroy for 21 years. She is the mother of two grown children, has a husband and a dog. Her volunteer work centers around end-of-life issues. To support her volunteer efforts, she teaches for Gilroy Unified. Her column is published every Wednesday. Reach her at