“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
– Mark Twain
I’ve met some very wise people in my life. One, a few years ago, taught me a lot about choice. In general, very few of us can choose what happens to us. Yes, we can choose coffee or tea. Some days we can choose to sleep late. But most things that happen in this world are outside of our control. Whether it be the weather, traffic, or the time the sun rises, it just happens. What I was taught, what we can control, often the only thing we have control over, is how we react. And yeah, sometimes things suck. Having a day planned at the beach, waking up to rain, isn’t great. Can you change it? I know I can’t. Often we need to employ what is called “radical acceptance”. You don’t have to like the weather, but you need to accept it.
So why does this matter? Almost exactly seven years ago I saw a message on Facebook. It was from a friend, a coworker who lives in Texas. The message said “my heart goes out to my friends in Boston”. I had no idea what that meant. Turning on the TV, I learned of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was especially devastating to Krystle Marie Campbell, Lü Lingzi, Martin Richard, a few days later Sean Collier, and their families. Over the next few days, instead of choosing anger and fear, I chose to see hope and fearlessness. I saw people running toward the site of the bombings. They didn’t know if there were more bombs. What they knew was that people needed help and they ran to them. Some were first responders. Most were not. At one point I sat on the couch, crying, and kept reversing the DVR, watching the same scene again and again, watching people run through the smoke, towards the bombing site, to help. My focus could have been hate and anger toward the two brothers who did this. Yes, I find their acts disgusting. Despicable is a good word. Yet more powerful than the evil of the two was the acts of kindness and courage of the many.
We’ve seen this many, many times before. 09/11 was horrible. The thought I choose to focus on is the first responders (they weren’t called that at the time, the name came after) who went into the towers to help. Most of them died. Yet they went. Most of our firefighters, many of our police, make a choice to serve, to help people. I’ve met many firefighters on the charity cycling ride I do. I’ve heard some of their stories. I heard the story of a friend who had to stop his team from going into a burning building because it was too unsafe. They wanted to go anyway because a family was still inside. They couldn’t. They don’t talk about it, but they know that every time the bell rings, that they go on a call, that it could be their last. Yet they go anyway because people need help.
So today I choose to see things like nurses and doctors who go to work every day, knowing their lives are at risk. They see the same statistics as I do. Two Boston hospitals have a combined twenty-odd workers who have tested positive for COVID-19. Yet they go to work because people need help. I can see a president who can’t stop lying or I can see Dr. Fauci do everything he can to tell the truth. I can wonder (and do) if it’s safe to go grocery shopping. I can feel bad for myself, but, in reality, how does my wondering compare to the people who show up every day to work. I can choose to complain about my hands hurting from the dry skin caused by washing them so often or thoroughly. Or I can choose to see it as a reminder that there are people sacrificing a lot to help keep us all healthy and safer.
I know what I’ve chosen. What will you choose?