“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~ Ambrose Redmoon
I hated that he often used to tell me to do things that scared me, or keep figuring out a solution to some math problem that was clearly impossible to solve. The worse part was he was confident I could do it, and so casual about it all that it made me even more scared and annoyed. I must have told him a few times that if he truly loved me, he wouldn’t expect me to do scary things, and he’d just give me the answer to that darn math problem instead of letting me suffer.
I argued with him of course. Fine, so I’ll do whatever was scary but what if I failed? And what if five hours from now I’ll still be struggling with those numbers and equations?
He’d answer that yes, I might fail, and yes, I might work for another five hours on that math problem.
I’d glare at him. (Which sometimes got me in trouble…”You can’t look at your father like that with those big brown eyes of yours” I was often told.)
And in the end he was the ogre, and I did what scared me and also figured out not one, but hundreds of impossible math problems and I was quite pleased with myself.
In later years, we didn’t talk much, our relationship was very difficult.
Anyway, the anxiety came. And I remember this one time he did come to ask me why I was so upset. It might have been one of those rare weekends when he’d leave his room and his books and come down to smoke a pipe and enjoy some time outdoors.
I was annoyed at the inteference and didn’t want to talk about it. But eventually I did tell him that I was miserable, and felt completely defeated…that nothing was working, that my reading and efforts didn’t seem to help at all. And I was done trying.
He didn’t give me a positivity lecture involving ambition and the pulling of boot straps. Instead, he just asked:
“So what is the alternative?”
Surely I must have wanted to throw something at him, given the state I was in.
“The alternative is hell!” I replied…I’m sure of it.
He didn’t think it was a very good alternative and said as much. Dear God, I was going to strangle either him or myself. But he kept on going, suggesting that it might be a good idea to keep trying and actually believe that I would succeed.
“But I can’t anymore…I’ve been failing for too long, this anxiety isn’t going away, and I’m just afraid of even thinking it might ever go away, because what if it doesn’t?”
And then he told me that we’re all afraid, and obviously I had good reason to feel discouraged AND afraid, but that other things were much more important than fear. The absence of courage or faith is never an alternative.
P.S. I was just finishing up a post on overcoming fear, but it got too long and complicated, so I started looking for some inspirational quotes and found one, basically his words, along with that memory from long ago. Which is quite the gift, especially as it comes one day before the day he left this world 4 years ago. So this post is for him.