“Weren’t you frightened?” Dorothy asked the Wizard of Oz
“Frightened? Child, you're talking to a man who's laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom,
and chuckled at catastrophe... I was petrified.”
From the movie “The Wizard of Oz”
“Courage” was not a word that used to jump to the fore front of my mind when asked to describe myself. My day to day was unremarkable for the most part. I may have encountered a hiccup now and then, but certainly not something that would involve having to reach inside myself to find the courage that I may or may not have possessed. I never had to laugh in the face of danger, or sneer at doom or even chuckle at catastrophe…until I had to actually deal with catastrophe. And much like the Wizard of Oz, when I did have to deal with more than a hiccup, I was petrified.
Fourteen years ago, I found myself not only fighting for my life, but having to learn how to live in the body that I did not come into the world owning. I had been cast in a play I never auditioned for, and didn’t recognize. I didn’t know the lines, or how the story would unfold. The only thing I was certain of was the end…the lead character, me, survived. I found myself living in a body I no longer recognized, and learning how to live in this new body, minus parts, was terrifying.
There were days when I didn’t want to work hard on my survival, when I was worn and tired and troubled. How was I ever going to get my life back with three missing limbs, and lying flat on my back in a hospital bed? Coming to terms with that, fully understanding that my life as I knew it had ended, took courage. But embracing my new life, living in a newly disabled body took tremendous courage.
I found early on in my recovery that not only did I need courage to adjust to the new me figuring out how to manage this new life, but my husband and my two little boys needed it too. Even at the most difficult and painful times of my recovery, I recognized that it was my courage which was lighting the way for the others around me, and sustaining us all.
My little son, who was 4 years old at the time of my hospitalization, came to visit me at the hospital at least once a week. Every time he would get ready to leave, he would walk to the threshold of the door. He would turn and look at me. In his little tremulous voice he would ask, “When you comin’ home mom?” Even though I knew the question was coming, each and every time I heard it, it would break my heart. But I’d slap a smile on my face and reply, “soon honey, soon.” It took every ounce of courage I had to put that smile on my face, and reassure my child that his mother would be home once again. It was my courage that kept me from unraveling during those moments. And it was my courage that allowed me to continue to give my child what he needed the most…hope.
I have found out much about courage over these past years. I have learned that not only do you carry courage within you, but you can lend it to others-- that it builds on itself. As you use courage, the more courage you will have. You may have to dig deep the first time you use courage to face obstacles or challenges in your life, but the more you use your courage the less deep you will have to dig. Pretty soon, you won’t have to dig at all.
Courage will be the first tool you grab to get you through your own personal catastrophes, or when you’re cast in a play you didn’t audition for-- when your lines are difficult, challenging, and maybe even foreign.
When I am asked to describe myself now, the word “courage” does jump to the forefront of my mind. I have had to go to battle more than once in my life. I have laughed in the face of death, and sneered at doom, and even chuckled at catastrophe. And each and every time, I have been petrified. But I move forward, never being frozen in fear.
So, acknowledge the courage inside you even if you have to dig deep. Be willing to accept that you have courage-own it. Continue to use it in everything you do. The day will come when courage is simply a part of who you are. And maybe you will even be able to chuckle at catastrophe. But if you can’t and you’re feeling petrified, your courage will allow you to learn your new lines and not become paralyzed by stage fright. It will help you on your survivor’s journey…always moving forward.