History and literature are replete with accounts of valiant acts. Men and women who stood firm in the face of intense trials are renowned for their bravery and boldness. Fictional films and novels vividly portray the tension between meeting a challenge and folding in fear.
The Red Badge of Courage is a poignant example. In this novel Stephen Crane introduces a character named Henry Fleming. Henry is a young man who joined the army during the civil war dreaming of finding glory and honor in battle. He quickly found that war was not what he imagined it would be. After a time of waiting, rumors circulated of a great battle to come. This caused Henry great anxiety as he pondered whether he would fight or run when the shooting began. After initially running from the fight, Henry eventually found the courage to face his fears and fought the enemy with bravery and distinction.
As you read such stories growing up, where did you see yourself in the action? Did you imagine that you would run, or did you see yourself as heroic? It’s likely that few see themselves in their own mind as one who would run from a challenge or allow anxiety to overwhelm them in the face of testing. Just as Henry found, however, real life is not always as easy as novels and movies portray it to be.
We are at this time facing a global pandemic. It’s difficult to know if this will be a fleeting virus no worse than the common flu, or something that’s much more serious. What is clear is that unprecedented actions have been taken by governments and corporations. Likewise, investors have panicked and serious economic consequences seem possible. The 24-hour news cycle focusing on the worst and blaming leaders is not helping.
History will judge whether the reaction to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic was appropriate. Either way, the anxiety felt by millions is real. Hoarding of food, medical supplies, ammunition, and various other resources is well underway. Supermarket shelves are beginning to empty, causing further panic buying. Items that were readily available days ago are suddenly almost unobtainable.
The question is, how will we react? Will we and our children look back at this historic moment as a time when we panicked, or will this be a teaching moment when those we love will see us rise to the challenge and face difficult times with courage?
The word “courage” has an interesting etymological history. The ancient root of the word goes back to the French and Latin terms for heart. The Online Etymology Dictionary traces this history, and suggests that the root meaning of the word courage refers to, “Valor, quality of mind which enables one to meet danger and trouble without fear.” This usage reminds me of the words of Jesus as recorded in John 16:33 (NIV). Jesus said:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Whether your confidence is based on faith, your training, or a combination of the two, how will you respond to the current global pandemic? Words have different meanings and connotations at different times in history. We have the opportunity at this moment and in the weeks and months ahead to write what courage means for this time and for this crisis.
If you’ve been gifted with the ability to face challenges with courage, consider taking this opportunity to help those around you who have the tendency to be overwhelmed. Be patient, kind, and do what you can to encourage others to stand firm.
Think back for a moment to Henry Fleming in the Red Badge of Courage. Think about how you pictured yourself when you read that book or novels like it as a young person. This is our opportunity to face a great challenge with valor. This is our chance to demonstrate to this generation that words still mean what they once did. This is a time to be wise, to take sound precautions, and yet to not allow panic to overwhelm us. In short, this is a time for courage.