The Bright Side …the nature of courage
We hear a lot about courage. Legends and songs have told of it from the beginning of time, with heroic deeds in the face of terrible odds, or of willingness to suffer great pains for a noble goal.
We sometimes get to feel courage in ourselves. For example, when I hear a stranger coming to the door of our house, and I growl and bark at them, not knowing how big or fierce they might be.
And sometimes we get to see it firsthand.
Now I know that there are millions of incredible acts of courage in the world every day. People bravely working to save their children, facing horrors in battle, or sacrificing their own lives for the betterment of all.
But while I am aware of those cases, those aren’t what I mean by “firsthand.” There are other situations, maybe quieter ones, which, because we see them up close, knock us out with their awesome power.
I want to tell you about the bravest people I’ve ever seen.
First, there was just a happy couple, one of the happiest I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. They met in college, fell in love, and got married. They were very nice, had some struggles, handled them well. Over time they had four children – each funny, brash, and very unique. And they had dogs – lots of really fun dogs. It looked like the perfect life. Because, well, basically it was!
Then about a year ago, the husband had a tiny stroke (which happens when the brain gets either too much or too little blood. It can be very damaging, but in this case, he seemed fine).
And then about a week later, he had a seizure. That’s when there’s too much nerve activity in the brain, and can make a person tremble or even go into convulsions. What was odd about this seizure, though, is that it didn’t, like most, go on for a few minutes. It lasted over a day.
Doctors did MRIs and X-rays, and found what they were scared of – that he had a small tumor in his brain. And while they could treat it, it looked like it might be cancer.
Now lots of people would just get depressed and give up hope when they heard that. But not this guy. He’d always worked in the medical field, and was quite happy to trust in the brilliance of doctors. So he was treated with all the best science had to offer. And it helped.
But not enough. The tumor came back.
Now while all this was going on, something else very big was happening: one of their daughters had gotten engaged to the man of her dreams. And while her dad seemed fine, everyone was worried about whether he’d be able to give her away at her wedding.
So jump forward a few months. The wedding is set, and he is ready to walk his little angel down the aisle. But the night before, he’s supposed to give a speech at their rehearsal dinner. He’s fine, doing great. Except that the tumor has damaged the part of his brain that thinks of words.
You know that way you’ll get when you’re telling someone about something and you just can’t think of a word that you know perfectly well, when you say it’s “on the tip of my tongue?” Well that’s what he was like, but way more than usual. And it wouldn’t be words that one would normally have to think about, but simple, everyday words that no one ever forgets – words like “chair” or “cloud” or their best friends’ names.
So how could he give a speech? Well, remember my saying what a great couple they are? He got up to speak, but with his wife standing next to him. And she knew him so well that she could tell, with no hesitation, when he was going to forget a word, and what the word would be. So together, they gave a beautiful presentation, something along the lines of…
“Thank you all for coming to this beautiful”
“Where we get to celebrate the”
“Of our daughter to her great”
And so on.
And everyone there just stared, at the beauty of this amazing moment.
And when he walked his girl down the aisle the next night, so proud, beaming, no one’s eyes were dry.
But then something else happened that made those almost forgettable.
An hour or two later, when it was time for the dancing to begin, the bride took the microphone and told everyone gathered there, “I want to thank you all for being here for my marriage to the love of my life. But he wasn’t the first love of my life. The first one was the one who got me here, and who taught me to love all sorts of things, from basketball to dumb jokes to musicals. And I’d like my first dance to be with my first love.”
And she reached out her hand to her father. He stood up, took her in his arms, and the music began – not a romantic ballad or a song about fathers and daughters, but instead, a silly, naughty tune they both adored, about always looking on the bright side of life, even in the face of death.
And then, with these almost blasphemous words around them, they danced with wild free passion, as silly and effusive as I am when someone holds a lamb bone up in the air for me to jump. And, with joy in his heart and love in his eyes, that dad sang along with every word of that song.
No one who was there will ever forget that moment. No matter what happens to their brains; it will be embedded into their hearts forever.
This was about eight months ago. He has fought valiantly ever since, never losing his cheerful optimism and canine-level friendliness. The family have gone on trips, cheered their favorite basketball team like crazy, truly lived. And at times it really has felt like the miracles everyone was praying for had come to pass.
But then, a few weeks ago, the doctors sat him and his wife down, and gave the awful news: The medicines they’d been using weren’t working, and they were going to stop all treatment.
So once again, the question arose. What would a family do after hearing news like that? What can a family do then? Give up? Fall headlong into depression?
Not this bunch. They decided to… throw the best party ever.
They invited his friends from throughout his life, family members, coworkers – and had everyone bring pictures and funny stories about him to share. This was to be a celebration of all he’d experienced.
And it was glorious. Still in the same condition, of having everything working in his brain except easy word-grasping, he was as humorous, affectionate, and warmhearted as ever. And the love that poured onto him that night was like nothing I’d ever seen. So many stories, so many joking insults. So much him.
And as I watched him get into a car, two hours past his bedtime, and head home, I knew that this was what everyone in the world deserves. A night like this. Where they can be allowed to feel all the love they’ve earned. Which for him was a whole lot.
And now? When the party has been cleaned up and all the guests are gone… what now?
No one knows.
With his family surrounding him, he is now in the hands of… whatever you choose to call it. God, nature, the hands of fate, the Alpha-Dog of all Alpha-Dogs…
No one has ever had better energy inside them and around them. But he, and his family, are truly flying on trapezes without a net. And no one knows for how long.
I have seen miracles often, so I know he could have decades left in him. But we can only hope and pray for miracles; we can’t count on them. That’s what makes them miracles.
So what this man, this couple, this family, do, is they face every day. They embrace every second they have. They greet the world with excitement and love and gratitude.
And this is what I mean by courage. What I saw in this family when they first faced this rotten loathsome disease. What he and his wife showed when going through painful difficult treatments. What everyone at that wedding saw in that speech and that dance. And what you, my dear readers, must have felt when I told you about the celebration party.
You see, awful things can happen to any of us, any time. Courage isn’t about experiencing them, or even surviving them. It’s about how you face them when they come.
To pretend nothing’s wrong, or to blame others, or to withdraw from everyone – those are natural and understandable, but they’re not courageous.
While to stand up in the face of disease, damage, and doctors honest enough to say they can’t do anything, and deliver a laugh, a joke, a hug, a “thanks for being here…” That is truly the act of the brave.
I write these articles, and run this website, because I find that, with all the brilliance you humans all have, you often miss out on the simple pure understanding of life we dogs can bring. But in this particular case, I have to bow down. This family, this couple, this man… can even teach us pooches a thing or two.
Anyone can die. Everyone does eventually. But looking at people like this enlightens us all with something far more amazing:
How to LIVE.
Keep it up, Donny.