Today, I catch myself thinking of all the service men and women out there who are selflessly putting their life on the line for us day in and day out. It reminds of conversations I have had with my own friends in the service; they do not talk about it much.
One particular time, we were out camping and found ourselves sitting around the campfire as the sun set. One of my friends pulled out a harmonica and played out a couple of keening, lonesome notes. He looked up with tears in his eyes and softly said “Five years ago today, I saw my first brother die. There was nothing I could do to save him. I had to warn the others that the enemy was approaching. I…” An uncontrolled sob erupted out of him. After a few moments, he gathered himself to speak again. “I had to…” He blinked away tears and manages “to leave him behind.” in a gruff voice that still carried within it the pain of that moment.
He played some more on his harmonica surrounded by his friends under the benevolent light of the full moon. He saw none of that as he was transported to memory that needed to be relived. “I could never forgive myself if I did not try to bring him home. My superiors felt the area was too dangerous for us to go back and get him; that they had taken his body away by now. I could not… I just could not not try to find him.” He took a drink from his water bottle and continued “So, I defied my orders and set out to find him. I… I was so afraid and so angry. The closer I got to the area the more scared I got. That Devil snake voice started talking in my head and showing me all sorts of terrifying pictures of me soaked in blood.” He shuddered forcefully clearly trying to expel those images that haunt him still. “I wavered just a bit in my resolve and almost turned back around. Somewhere deep in my gut I felt myself harden into steel. When that happened I moved on and found him in the same place he died.” My friend grew silent for a long time and whispered “I brought him home so we could all say our last goodbye.”
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.
~ Mark Twain
I know my friend showed courage that day; not just once but many times. He overcame his fear and did what was right anyways. His belief and his conviction that all other ways had been exhausted led to his ultimate resolve to do the right thing.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
~ Winston Churchill
Courage though is not limited to service men and women or the police. Courage lies within each and every one of us whether we realize it or not. Courage is something we engage in each and every day. Courage is a basic human virtue that renders us dauntless in the face of adversity. Adversity, as you well know, comes in all shapes and sizes these days. Still don’t believe me?
Let me share with you 12 every day actions that each require a good doze of courage:
- The courage to take responsibility: It is too easy to place blame on others when situations do not work out well. When you own the responsibility in spite of the fear of consequences, that is courage.
- The courage to live with integrity: It is too easy to take the easy street some times even though they conflict from your inner values. When you stick to your path and your core beliefs despite the hardship, that is courage.
- The courage to challenge “Your Stories”: It is too easy to insist that your interpretation of the world is the only truth. When you are willing to question your beliefs and assumptions, that is courage.
- The courage to dream bigger: It is too easy to confine our dreams to the limits of our personal experience. When you dare yourself to dream big and reach for the unknown potential beyond, that is courage.
- The courage to be who you are: It is too easy to succumb to the pressures of society to be within the norm. When you express your genuine authentic self, that is courage.
- The courage to speak up: It is too easy to fall prey to group think and passively react to the injustices about you. When you dare yourself to speak up and voice your concerns against popular opinion, that is courage.
- The courage to step boldly into action: It is too easy to fear failure and become inactive and ineffective. When you fear regret more than you fear failure, that is courage.
- The courage to persevere: It is too easy throw you hands up and throw in the towel in this day and age. When you reach within to harness that last ounce of resolve and surge forth unsure of success, that is courage.
- The courage to say “No”: It is too easy to agree in a society that relies on compliance. When you refuse and define your boundaries, that is courage.
- The courage to open your heart fully: It is too easy to shield the heart in a world full of antagonism and apathy. When you open your heart to life’s pain as well as its joy, that is courage.
- The courage to let go: It is too easy to try to control every moment and every outcome in our lives. When you give up resisting what you can’t control and go with the flow of life, that is courage.
- The courage to be a leader: It is too easy to decide to only concern yourself with your own fate. When you take on the welfare of others as they follow your shining light, that is courage.
I would like to introduce you to Vedran Smailovic. Vedran is one such individual who exemplifies the definition of courage in all its forms.
On May 27th, 1992, in Sarajevo, a group of civilians were standing in a breadline, hoping for their share of a dwindling food supply when a mortar shell fell from the sky. Twenty-two innocent men, women and children were killed.
On May 28th, 1992, when principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, Vedran Smailovic, took his cello to the crater left by the deadly blast and, amidst the sniper fire, played for 22 consecutive days…one for each of his friends and neighbors who had been killed. He played Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor.
I had just started college when this event took place. I sat with my eyes glued to the TV set as this “beauty in the face of darkness” played itself out. Twenty years later to the day, I find myself thinking back on that moment in time and the lesson it had taught me:
If you answer violence with violence, you create a vicious, unending cycle. The answer to violence has to be creative energy, not more destructive energy.
A young peacemaker by the name of Jason Crowe wrote and presented a poem at a memorial and vigil marking the 5 year anniversary of the Breadline Massacre in 1997. The poem was dedicated to Vedran Smailovic and his 22 neighbors and friends.
I present you Jason’s poem on the 20th anniversary of the Breadline Massacre.
THE CELLO CRIES ON
By: Jason Crowe
May 27th, five years ago today,
A mortar shell fell in a city far away.
Twenty-two people lost their lives-
Husbands, children, grandparents, wives.
One man saw the blood and gore,
The next day he walked out his door.
He walked to the crater with his cello and chair,
And played while bullets flew through the air.
For twenty-two days his cello cried,
One day for every person who died.
He soon became world renowned
For his courage, his music, his feelings profound.
Where were you? Where was I?
When Sarajevo bled and Bosnians died.
We were asleep. We were safe.
While in Bosnia cities were being strafed.
Wake up, World! See the blood, hear the screams!
Wake up, World! Come out of your dreams!
Wake up, World! Sound the alarm,
So people of Bosnia won’t suffer more harm.