Category Archives: Courage

A Man With A Vision

I want to tell you about an extraordinary man’s vision and commitment.  In this case, “vision” is figurative, because he is, quite literally, blind.

Urban Miyares is a Vietnam veteran.  At the end of a particularly horrendous firefight, he was mistakenly put into a body bag for dead.  Two days later, when the bags were opened to do identifications, a medic assistant noticed that he was not dead.  His injuries were severe, and he is now blind, but he didn’t miss a beat to stay involved in life.  He has started and operated many businesses and has always used his talents.  He didn’t “quit” on life.

Urban is the founder and director of Challenged America (www.challengedamerica.org), whose mission is to introduce sailing as a therapeutic and rehabilitative-enhancing activity to individuals with disabilities. That sounds very nice, but what put me “over the top” was his firm commitment to working only with people who are committed to being involved in work and life.  If they aren’t working or in work training, he won’t take them into the program.  He told me that the folks who just get disability and sit around are directed toward regular sailing schools.  He works hard with people who are equally committed to working hard.

That sounds more than nice.  It is brilliant.  Never be more committed to helping someone than they are committed to helping themselves!  When Urban made those pronouncements, I was all aboard with ferocious enthusiasm, as I share that philosophy and that’s why I chide so many parents and other family members for trying harder than the one they’re helping.  Continual rescues only serve to let the person they’re “helping” continue on his or her destructive path, and to assuage any feelings of guilt on the part of the helper by keeping the other afloat when that person is not even trying  to tread water.

I participated in a wonderful dinner (where I was the keynote speaker), silent auction, and regatta in support of Challenged America.   I was very proud to be part of all those events to benefit such a worthy operation.  Check them out at www.challengedamerica.org.

Don’t Be A Coward

Recently, I had a caller to my radio program – a 22 year old woman – who complained to me that she was anguished over the homecoming of her mother from a vacation.  It seems life is quite terrible for this woman with “Mommy dearest” around. 

I asked her why, at 22 years old, she was still living with her mother when it was such a horrible experience.  Her answer was quick and to the point:  “I am a coward.”  I gently (yes, I can be gentle!) informed her that there is a price to everything, and the price for cowardice is anguish.  There’s no fix for that without moving past cowardice.

Life situations are largely out of our control, but the decisions we make and the steps we take for responsible action are in our control.  Cowardice (as my caller put it), however, is a major problem in a large number of people’s lives.  That’s why you hear people argue both sides of a situation when asked why they don’t speak up, take legal action, confront, and so on.  They’ll say: “Yeah, I know…,” and then cowardice takes over because they don’t want anyone mad, they don’t want to lose something (money, connection, etc.), and they don’t want to have the feeling of being alone.  Because of cowardice, they will tolerate abuse and put others (like children and spouses) in harm’s way.

The tell-tale signs of cowardice are the phrases “Yes, I know…,” and “But…,”  and “It’s not always so bad…,” and “But I’m not always so good either…,” and “Can’t they just go into therapy?,” and my favorite, “But what if….”

You get the picture.

Remember, ultimately, you are the architects of your own lives.  Cowardice wastes your precious time on earth.

Parachute Jump Teacher Saves Student from Sure Death

I’m writing today about Dave Hartsock of Texas, and all the people who are like him.

Dave was the instructor.  His student, a woman, was a total newbie.  The day for the parachute jump was beautiful:  sunny, clear, warm.  Dave gave Shirley her briefing before they took off in the airplane to jump – in tandem (that means attached to each other), as he has done hundreds of times.  This day was different.  This day the parachute did not deploy properly and they were spinning to their certain deaths.

They did not die though, but Dave is now paralyzed.  When the chute didn’t open properly, he checked to see if he could fix it, and realized there was no fix, so they were in trouble.  After spinning toward the ground for what seemed forever, he accepted the gravity of the situation.

He told Shirley to tuck her feet in, and he twisted himself so that he would hit the ground first and cushion the fall for Shirley with his whole body.  He took the hit for her.

Why?  I watched a Fox News interview with him, and he said that when people jump with him, they trust him with their lives.  He has the obligation, he said…the obligation…to make sure they come out okay:  “I was going to be the one to take the shock to make her okay.  That was my first obligation.”

Whew.  What a man of character!  He is now permanently paralyzed.  He figured he would likely die in order to be the shock absorber for his student’s body, and he did it with calm and resolve.

This attitude is no different from the guys in combat in our military, our police, and our firefighters.  It takes a certain profound character to put one’s life on the line for strangers because of obligation willingly and voluntarily accepted.

We need more people like Dave.

I watched him in his wheelchair, still calm and accepting of his situation, and firm in his resolve. 

No anger…no resentment.  Just character.

The Courage of Our Public Servants

A few weeks ago, the news replayed and replayed the hotel surveillance video tape of a scene out of Law and Order.  A woman was attacked by some creep, and a homeless man went to her rescue.  The creep ran away, the woman ran away, and the homeless man lay bleeding to death on the pavement, with at least a dozed people (caught on video) just walking by.  One man turned him over, examined him, and then walked away.  The homeless man died.  He died alone – ignored – and yet, he was a hero for rescuing the woman who was attacked.

I am unaware of any follow-up regarding this hero – who he was, his background, his circumstance.  There was probably little media interest in a homeless man.

Then, soon after, a Vietnam veteran alerted police to a suspicious car in New York City’s Times Square.  The policeman checked the car and recognized that it was likely a car bomb.  The dominoes fell appropriately, with the bomb squad alerted, and everyone evacuated from Times Square.

A Pakistani man who got American citizenship decided to kill as many American citizens as possible, because of his radical Muslim beliefs that infidels need eradication.  Nice family guy, I’m sure.

He failed in his attempt to mass murder American citizens, because a military vet used his training well (many years after the fact), and a policeman did his duty.

This story had a happier ending than the first one, because of the training and commitment of those who serve us.

Facing Your Fears

Recently, on a Friday afternoon, I had an experience which challenged my fears and comfort level.  I went out sailing in 20-30 knots of wind, with 6 – 8 foot swells, in a very, very narrow boat only 41 feet long.  I have five experienced crew with me.  And I was nervous.

Believe you me, it is an intimidating experience when a little sailboat is planing at over 20 knots with gusts and crazy waves.  You don’t have a lot of opportunity to think things through or to hesitate – a five degree wrong move and….WIPEOUT!  In the cold water and sloppy big waves, that could mean “man overboard” with the boat temporarily out of control. (Watch the experience.)

I am learning to skipper a boat under these conditions, where you have to run on “feel” and not so much on thinking things through.  I have lots to learn and practice, but whoo hoo!  What a ride!

In doing this, I faced rational fear and was out of my comfort zone.  It took 48 hours for me to come down from that exhilaration.  It changes you.  I feel proud of myself; I know I’m getting better and better.  Facing fears and limitations, while scary, leads to such acceleration in joy of life and a growing self-confidence, that it is more than worth the scary moments.

As I keep nagging at you folks, things are scary until they become familiar.  Practice and forcing yourself to face the experience time and again gives you familiarity which gives you confidence, and a natural, free, and legal “high.”

The Matter-of-Fact Hero

Recently, I was walking from my kitchen to my office and passed by my TV, which was tuned to Fox News.  The anchors were promoting an upcoming story that I didn’t stick around long enough to watch, but one which I want to comment on nonetheless.  They showed three pictures from a bank security video camera where a guy (who wasn’t wearing a mask, and who may or may not have been carrying a weapon) was robbing the bank.   Behind him was an older, larger man who had a very relaxed expression on his face – almost as though he wasn’t aware that anything was happening.

The next frame showed the robber turning to leave.  The third frame showed the large man “bear-hugging” this robber from behind – while still maintaining a totally relaxed expression on his face!

The caption underneath proclaimed the bear-hugging guy to be a hero.

Yes, he was.  He caught the bad guy.  But what struck me is that he waited calmly and then just acted – behavior which is very typical of hero-types.  They do what they do without agonizing over it, without mulling over their fears and potential losses.  They simply do the right thing.

Jews for all times call the Christians and their families who risked torture and death in order to rescue Jews during World War II “righteous Gentiles,” and hold them in supreme respect.  I have watched documentaries where righteous Gentiles explain why they did what they did when it was a potential death sentence.  To the one, they all said the same thing:”IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.”  It’s how they were brought up.

Heroes are so “matter of fact” about their extraordinary actions that they don’t even categorize what they have done as “heroic” and it’s not false modesty.  It’s just that it was, for them, simply the right thing to do.

Lessons Learned from Shooting Pool

I thought I’d continue with the theme of new beginnings during the first week of the new year by telling you a “biggie” for me – something I had to learn at a deeper level than just on an intellectual level.  I took up the game of pool about a year ago.  And like everything I do, I jumped into it “full bore” and with ferocity unmatched by any other living creature.  I practiced hours every day in this mad-like rush to conquer this goal as soon as I possibly could.

In general, my enthusiasm and full commitment pay off in learning and conquering new goals, but there are some that actually require a dispassionate approach.  That was tough for me.  I got thoroughly emotional whenever I missed even one shot!  I quit several times out of utter frustration. 

Fortunately, I have a great coach/teacher who keeps trying to get me to be quite robotic.  He has me do what amounts to a ritual routine with each shot:  look at the shot and imagine it happening as I put chalk on the cue tip.  Then, put the chalk down and I pretend I’m doing the shot once or twice in the air, then get way down on the table and do practice motions up to the cue ball and then fire.

Once I am down, no more thinking, moving, judging…just faith that my mind and body have this covered. 

This took the better part of a year to learn.  But it works.

The too easy frustration with myself comes from a most critical father’s constant berating of me, and taking up pool has helped a tremendous amount with getting rid of that knee-jerk response. 

I was setting up my weaving loom the other day, and everything was going wrong.  The set-up looked seriously trashy.  But instead of getting down on myself (like I would have done before), I just smiled, leaned over, cut it all off the loom and threw it away.  I walked away feeling quite accomplished!  Why?  I just accepted that sometimes it doesn’t work – thrown away yarn is not the end of the world – and having the calm to make that decision to come back and loom another day is a big victory!

I hope this story helps you.