Learning the Meaning of Courage

4 min
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“What is courage? What does it mean to have courage? Thoughts everyone?” Vivian didn’t even look up as her teacher addressed the class. English was by far the most boring subject, and her worst. Meg, a pretty brunette to Vivian’s right, raised her hand. Of course. Ms. Perfect. Every school had one. Smart, popular, beautiful, athletic. Everything Vivian was not.
“Courage is being able to stand up to something without any fear. Like bravery. Courage is the absence of fear.” the teacher nodded slowly, his eyes narrowed in thought.
“Yes, that is a common misconception. Anybody else? How about...Robert. What do you think?” The short boy looked up from his math homework.
“Uh...can you repeat the question?” Mr. Blakely did so with a bit of annoyance laced in his tone. Robert thought about it for a few minutes.
“Well,” he started slowly, “I think courage isn’t the absence of fear. I think it is doing something while you’re scared. If you had no fear, the task wouldn’t be courageous, it would be simple.” Mr. Blakely grinned. Clearly, he got the answer he was looking for. Vivian shook her head. What a cliché question and answer.
“Vivian, something you’d like to add?” she hesitated. English was her worst subject. Did she really want to speak up? She twisted a beaded cornrow in one hand nervously. Everyone was staring at her.
“Vivian?” he prompted again. She took a deep breath. She could do this.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as courage.” Mr. Blakely looked taken aback.
“Please elaborate.”
“Well it is like Robert said, isn’t it? If someone has no fear, then they’re not courageous.”
“But what if they have fear and do their task, then aren’t they courageous?” pipped up Jean Gilmore from the back. Vivian shook her head.
“Nobody just does something they are fearful of without an incentive. The hero slays the dragon because he wants to win the hand of the princess. That is bravery. Brave heroes and heroines are able to confront fear in order to achieve their goals. Courage, true courage, is being fearful but still being able to do the task at hand. Courage has no incentive. I just...I think that us humans don’t have the mental capability to be truly courageous. We don’t do stuff that scares us for no reason. Even if the incentive is conquering your fears, the incentive is still there.” Snickers were heard through out the room, and Vivian realized how strange she must sound. Mr. Blakely however, looked deep in thought.
“Yes...that is a very interesting point. If I may play Devil’s advocate for a moment? How about when someone is forced to do something? Isn’t that courage?” Vivian thought about it for a moment. He had a good point. But...
“No it’s not. If someone has you at gunpoint and forces you to rob a bank, doing so doesn’t make you courageous. It makes you brave, because you are able to face your fears in order to get the incentive of not being shot. And I guess, to make sure no one else got hurt. But a courageous person wouldn’t need a gun at their head. They would volunteer to cooperate to ensure others’ safety.”
“But is that courage or stupidity? Or worse, suicide?” Vivian chewed her lips thoughtfully for a few minutes. She didn’t really know. All she knew was that humans were about self-preservation and would never be capable of the kind of heroic deeds you saw in books and movies. Eventually she shrugged and Mr. Blakely smiled softly.
“I think you have the start of what can be a great and thoughtful writing piece.” He turned his back to the class and started writing on the board.
“Great we have homework.” Muttered a black-haired girl to Vivian’s left. With tan skin, black ringlets, and hazel eyes, Lilith was easily the Meg of her year. Proudly claiming the titles of ‘only sophomore in a junior pre-calculus class’ and ‘Vivian Xander’s best friend,’ she was band geek, super smart, and the star runner on the track team. Hassan Crawford, a blonde boy sitting behind Vivian, snorted.
“Lilith you and I both know you’ll get it done before the final bell rings.” Vivian giggled but turned her attention back to the board as Mr. Blakely cleared his throat.
“There are many definitions of courage,” he started, “but the one we will use today is as follows; mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Your homework is to write three paragraphs on what courage truly means. To be turned in Monday.” Everyone groaned. Just great, Vivian thought, like I’m not going to be busy enough. The chatter of the classroom faded to background noise as Vivian thought about all that had happened recently. She had never known her father, but for as long as she could remember it had been her and her mom. Then a year ago, her mom had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good, and the doctors had said it was unlikely she’d live another five years, but so far she’d be reacting to treatment well. Unfortunately, her mom was practically living at the hospital these days. Vivian didn’t even notice that the bell had rung until Hassan was shaking her shoulder.
“Hey Viv. It’s time for lunch.” Lilith slung an arm around her shoulder and the trio walked to lunch.
“Hey mom. I brought you something.” Vivian had drove herself to the hospital after school and was sitting on her bed. She had actually brought her mom a plant to liven up the room and a fuzzy blanket, but the thing she was referring to was a book of mad libs. Her mom smiled fondly and gently laid a hand on Vivian’s cheek. She couldn’t believe how much her mom’s appearance deteriorated over the past year. The once strong woman who taught gym now looked frail and tired, buried among a mountain of blankets.
“That’s very sweet of you dear. How was school? Do you have any homework?” that was her mother alright. Always trying to keep an air of normality.
“Not much. I just have to write three paragraphs for English.”
“What about?” Vivian recounted the conversation they held in class. As she got further into the story, her mom started to frown more and more.
“Oh honey. Is that what you really think?” confused, Vivian nodded.
“Yeah, I guess.” Her mom sighed and pulled Vivian close. There really wasn’t space for the two of them, both females being tall. Vivian often marveled at how much she resembled her mom; both had dark skin, coarse hair, startling green eyes, and long legs. Once they got comfortable, Vivian’s mom looked her in the eyes and spoke in a soft tone.
“Sweetheart, courage does exist. It is all around us, don’t you see? Courage is what we’re doing here. Even though times are tough, we persevere and tell ourselves that everything will be okay. We have nothing to gain from facing these challenges. In fact, in theory it is idiocy to face my cancer with the mentality that everything will magically be okay. However, we do, and that gives us strength to get us through the hard times. You understand?” Vivian nodded and gave her mother a tight hug. After a couple of moments she pulled away and grabbed her laptop. She had three paragraphs to write.
On Monday, Mr. Blakely was pleasantly surprised to see the title of Vivian Xander’s writing assignment.
The shockingly true story of courage in disguise; hope.

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