By Ken Trainor
As we go about our daily lives, we are surrounded by quiet profiles in courage. I was reminded of this on Sunday morning when I ran into Kristin Gehring and her parents, Betty and Philip, at Red Hen. Kristin's brother's wife died several years back, so the Gehrings moved up here from their longtime home in Valparaiso, Ind., to help their son raise the three girls (all adopted from the Ukraine). As you might imagine, this new chapter in their lives has not been without some challenges.
The Gehrings would no doubt say that many blessings are bundled up with all of this, and no doubt that's true, but it still takes courage.
Last week, we ran the obituary of Judy Southwick. She and her husband Bill lost their daughter to an unexplained illness 10 years ago while she was on a business trip to China. Judy and Bill consented to let me write a story about it. That alone takes courage. The next time I saw Judy, she was coordinating the Ekklesia speakers series at St. Giles Parish. She had cancer, but stayed active and involved. That requires courage, too. And Bill — imagine losing your daughter and wife in the course of a single decade.
Carol Lydecker showed courage by throwing a farewell party at FitzGerald's a couple of Wednesdays ago. Carol has stage 4 cancer. She stopped chemo, so it's only a matter of time now. A talented performer and choreographer, she and her husband, Bill Dwyer, wanted to be surrounded by love and laughter and song one more time, and that they got during a very entertaining evening in which the joy overwhelmed the sadness. Her spirit undiminished, Carol summoned the strength to deliver a touching goodbye. Who was giving the gift and who was receiving it became gloriously unclear as the evening went on.
Carol and Bill, the Gehrings and the Southwicks exemplify courage, but they have also shown something else: Grace.
"Grace under pressure" was Ernest Hemingway's definition of courage though I've never been entirely satisfied with that description.
Functioning in spite of fear is a good baseline definition of courage. We all live with fear. We all have to function in spite of it. Many of our fears are vague or exaggerated and, fortunately, rarely materialize. Waking in the wee hours, I am no stranger to the anxieties that surround my brain, creeping toward me, trying to claim control of my consciousness.
At those moments, imagination frequently deserts me and turns into fear's accomplice, spinning worst-case scenarios in vivid detail or enumerating a long list of people and things to fret about. By morning, much of the apprehension fades.
But for some, the nightmares become all too real — the Iraq war veteran I saw at Oaktoberfest last weekend, young and in his prime, missing an arm; the unemployed older workers I know, too young to retire but apparently too old to hire; the unemployed young worker looking for a chance to prove himself.
Examples abound. After visiting the Gehrings, I ran into a friend who retired earlier this year and six months later, his wife, the love of his life and a woman of great vitality, died of cancer.
If courage is functioning in the face of our fears, grace is what comes after we face them. Grace follows in the wake of courage. It builds as we weather each storm.
Grace is that imperturbable place inside that nothing seems to disturb. It is the steady voice that tells you in no uncertain terms, when you're frozen and holding back, that you can't say you love someone unless you're actively and actually loving them.
In our weaker moments, we have trouble believing the best because we're too busy fearing the worst. We don't trust the light because we're so afraid of encroaching darkness. I'm as guilty as anyone.
We're always under pressure, but we don't always show grace. That develops as we live with the tension. Grace is a form of resilience. It keeps life from being just a dreary progression from one crisis to another. It enables us to face whatever lies ahead.
The quiet profiles in courage are all around us. We live in a time that demands courage. But if we face our fears, there is a payoff.
What we can look forward to with some confidence is grace, that most mysterious of qualities. But where it comes from is no mystery.
It follows courage.