I have been writing since the age of six. I won my first regional poetry contest in second grade. I have had my own local columns, shared stories of my life, I puppet shows, inspirational short ... [+]

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story

“It is my great honor and privilege to introduce to you, Sgt. Rick Madden. Purple heart recipient, war hero, and an inspiration to all our great men and women in the service. I will now turn the podium over to him,” the host beamed proudly.

The audience clapped then began to cheer then standing as ovation. Mara Kimball clapped long and hard. She’d been following the story of Rick Madden since he first hit the media stream. He had been badly burned when an IED exploded under their vehicle. The fire spread fast and furious. Sgt. Madden had rushed into the flames to bring his comrades to safety, only to be met with sniper fire. Shielding the injured with his burned body, he opened fire single-handedly killing the sniper and getting his men to safety. He was America’s sweetheart, a real live American hero.

When the audience settled back in their seats, he looked down briefly and said softly, “Many believe courage is the absence of fear. That is not true. Courage is when you act in spite of the fear. You call me a hero, and yet, to me, I did the only thing that could be done. Was I scared? Did I consider running to save myself?”

His piercing blue eyes sparkled with tears, “Yes. I have never been as terrified as I was at that moment. Seriously, I doubt I will ever be that scared again in my lifetime. Yes, my survival instinct told every cell in my body to run. I wanted to run until I couldn’t run anymore. BUT...but I couldn’t and because I couldn’t Pvt. Landley saw his newborn daughter born, Sgt. Garrison taught his teenage son to drive. The men who survived have lives, birthdays, Christmases, engagements, and families.

I am honored and humbled by this show of appreciation by my fellow Americans, but I don’t think you see you are in the presence of heroes every day. It takes courage to stand up to bullies in school, it takes courage to go against popular opinion, it takes courage to be a single parent raising kids on their own, it takes courage to reach out to the homeless, the sick, the damaged. It takes courage and courage breeds heroes.

Thank you. Thank you so much for your daily courage. Thank you for standing up for what is right and doing your part to stop violence and suffering. Everyone sitting in this audience has experienced doing something in the face of fear, that’s courage.”

Mara felt the tears streaming down her face as she watched the proud young man exit the stage. She began to think though, what had she done in the face of fear? When had she run headlong into danger? When had she left her comfort zone to help someone in need? Sure, it was easy to like and comment and share on Facebook, but what difference had it made?

She was thoughtful as she began her drive home. Part of her felt ashamed. She had sat in the audience and clapped and admired this young man who braved flames and death, with everything to lose. She shied away from confrontation. She found it easier to nod than to speak up. She was no hero.
She found herself turning into a grocery store. She hadn’t really thought this out at all, but Sgt. Madden said we all had it in us to be heroes. Perhaps a small gesture was just as important as a grand one.

She bought fruit, bread, bologna, peanut butter, granola bars, and individual cereals. She put three cases of water in her cart. She paid for it and took her purchases out to the car. Next she went to the Dollar General and bought socks, underwear, bar soap, small shampoos, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Then just as an afterthought, she put several pairs of tennis shoes in different sizes in her cart. As she was about to check out, she had a thought and wheeled her cart around and put several backpacks in with the other items.
That afternoon she packed the backpacks. Sandwiches, two waters each, fruit, snacks, socks, underwear and toiletries. It was quite full! There was no room for the shoes though. Then she had an idea.

She went to Baker Street close to the mission. The homeless sat in the sunlight, some smoking, some just staring at the people who had nice cars and homes and jobs. Some were grouped into their little circle of friends. She went around the block twice. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she thought she may have been rash. This was not a good idea. What if she ran out of supplies and they wanted more? What if they found out who she was and they robbed her home? What if they grabbed her and did unspeakable things to her?

She almost turned around to go back home, but she thought of Sgt. Madden. Courage is not the absence of fear, but doing the right thing in spite of the fear. She turned around and went back to Baker Street.

She passed out the backpacks and asked their shoe size. They talked to her, gave her a hug, and many said, “God Bless You,” with tears in their eyes. As she pulled away from the curb they waved to her and she waved back! She checked her rearview mirror and saw a huge smile on her face. She looked over her shoulder and saw them comparing their goodies and smiling as well.

Courage. Not the absence of fear, but doing the right thing in spite of the fear. She hoped others were as inspired as she had been.