Glass Half Full: The importance of living while we are yet alive
I’ve always enjoyed the notion that we might not know how to describe or define art, but we know it when we see it — though I suppose there will always be those who argue the point.
Be that as it may, I feel the same way about courage: It’s difficult to describe just what constitutes courage, but we know it when we see it.
Recently, I was witness to two acts of courage remarkably different in almost all respects. The first involved an overheard conversation among three sixth-grade boys, chatting about one of their teachers.
One, not happy with her for a number of personal reasons, declared part of his dislike stemmed from the fact that she “never” called on him. Without getting all hot and bothered about it, another of the boys quietly mused, “She calls on you; you just don’t answer if you don’t like the question.”
With no audience to jump on his bandwagon, the first boy simply dropped the topic. Not a huge act of courage, this particular situation, but one that demonstrated, to me, a firmly grounded sense of honor in the boy who corrected his friend.
Disagreeing with something that is not accurate or right does take courage, especially when the possibility of annoying one’s friend is at stake. What I know is that I want the second boy in my camp; I can count on his integrity, which is, in itself, an important element of courage.
More significant: Over spring break I visited two longtime friends, one of whom, the husband, was diagnosed with ALS two summers ago. A nasty and merciless disease is Lou Gehrig’s.
Not quite two years after the sentence, Donald can no longer speak or swallow. He has trouble walking and must be fed through a tube. Polly, his wife, recently had the courage to ask for help. She put out a call to friends throughout the Boulder community to drop by in small groups and be trained to feed Donald through his tube. My brother answered the call, and I tagged along.
Since I last saw him, Donald has changed from a strong, vibrant, middle-aged man with snapping brown eyes to a much smaller, speechless, greyer man — with snapping brown eyes. He communicates using an iPad and software that will speak the words of whatever he types, much of which are jokes. I didn’t even recognize him at first, he has changed so much. His hug and sense of humor were intact, however.
The courage of this couple left me breathless and still does. How courageous it is to face death with such grace, humility, and generosity. They have opted to share some of the most intimate details of their lives with their friends, recognizing that (1) they can’t manage entirely on their own, and (2) people want to help.
I left our reunion reminded to live while we are yet alive and to practice courage when need be.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.