Friday, June 24, 2016
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela
A couple of people have written that they thought I was brave to have done all that I have done. They are wrong. I have never been brave. Brave is when the “fight or flight” response kicks in and even though you are scared and want to run, you stand and fight. I don’t even have a “fight or flight” response—I have a “flight or flight faster” response. It it true that I have been through a lot and suffered much, but mostly I survived by being perseverant or stubborn. I always did what the doctors told me to do but never gave in to their fears or prognoses. I only had a ten percent chance to live beyond 1979, but here I am. Now, if you want to see brave, you look at my wife, Karen. When she was in high school, her counselor told her she wasn’t smart enough to go to college and the best she could hope for was a below-average secretarial school. Of course, she not only went to college, she graduated in four years (I took seven) and many years later was accepted in a Master’s Program. She dropped out of that program with a straight “A” average because she said it was too easy. She told me that that program just wanted to give teachers Master’s degrees not to teach teachers to master anything. I was proud of her for that. She has been afraid often, losing her father to cancer, going to strange places, teaching in a ghetto during race riots (taught there for twelve years), and moving all over the country, always teaching. She’s the one who wanted to work in the slums in Curitiba, Brazil, for a mission with a friend (and we did), and she’s the one who wanted to come to Africa. As I love her rather a lot, I came with her and here we are. Let me give you an example of the difference between her bravery and my being a fraidy cat. The Serengeti National Park is over 7,000 square mile and has about 3,000 elephants, but Tarangire National Park is much, much smaller yet has over 35,000 elephants. Tarangire is near Arusha and Karen and I went on a safari there several years ago. No lions, but wow, tons and tons of elephants (pun intended). After just an hour or two, we realized that we had more pictures of elephants and we had friends who would look at them with us. However, we had mostly only seen matriarchal groups (many that were close enough to touch--I didn't), but I wanted to see a big bull. Our driver found us one about a mile off the track on the other side of a small stream. We drove over toward this magnificent beast (see picture at the right) and when our front wheels touched the water of the stream (apparently the boundary of this territory), his ears went straight out, he stared at us, stomped his feet, tucked his trunk up, and charged the car. Now, I was standing up in the front with the camera, and I threw the camera over my shoulder and Karen caught it. My life was starting to flash before my eyes, and I was really scared. The driver was trying to reverse out of the stream, but the wheels were spinning. All the driver kept saying was “bad elephant, bad elephant,” but I had figured that out. Karen, holding the camera I had thrown told me to get out of the way, this was going to be a great shot! I dropped to the floor just as the wheels finally got purchase the car shot backward out of the stream. As soon as we were out of the stream, the elephant stopped, snorted, turned around, pooped, and slowly walked away. I was relieved and my heart was moving back down from my throat, but Karen said, “Darn it. I was hoping he’d hit the car.” Karen is brave, I am only stubborn, but both are required to be a missionary on the edge of the Serengeti Plains. It’s good to persevere, but all of the truly great things we have done have been because of her bravery. She still ignores the kind of pain that would probably have led to hip replacements in the United States, but she has no intention of leaving here and just suffers in silence. She’s my hero. She’s the brave one. I’m the one that was glad that elephant didn’t really want to turn our car over.