Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow
- Dan Rather
While walking in the woods near our home on Cape Cod, I met a man who taught me a three-world lesson that has altered my life.
His name was Morris and he seemed to be in his seventies or eighties. He told me, “I walk here every day, rain or shine”.
Noticing that I was wearing a neck brace and holding onto a tree with one hand and my cane with the other, he said, “So, is it hard for you to get around here?”
He nodded in understanding and remarked, “But you still do it”. We seemed to form an unusually special bond on that day in the woods as we both spoke from our hearts.
“Frankly”, I said. “It’s harder for me to get here than it is to walk here. And that has nothing to do with needing a brace or a cane. It has to do with my thinking”.
“You get caught in maybe-I-will, maybe-I-won’t land. That’s the problem”.
“Yes!” I laughed at how perfectly he put that. “And that one second of debate is enough of a time gap for me to come up with a perfect excuse to talk myself out of it and press the button on the TV remote instead”.
Then he said the three magical words I now say to myself nearly every day: “Just show up”.
Later my husband, Bob, asked me what Morris meant.
“Well, here’s how I understand it. When the thought enters my brain, “I should go exercise”, I instantly start thinking about every single step it takes to get around to doing it. First I have to shower. Then I have to find something to wear. Then I have to find everything I need for safety. Then I have to – blah, blah, blah. I think what Morris meant was to scrap all of those thoughts. In other words, I should replace talking-myself-out-of-it thinking with the words: “Just show up”.
Bob started practicing Morris’s philosophy and It’s working for a lot of things. “I get overwhelmed at the computer with all the details I have to do”, he told me. “Sometimes I just avoid it, but that’s crazy. So instead of thinking about the big picture, I say, “Just show up”, and I do”.
Now, this new way of approaching things was working fine and dandy until a fellow named Kelvin and his wife, Amy contacted me. They organize and operate the Cape Cod Challenger Club. They’ve read many of my newspaper columns. My topics often include disabilities. That’s why they got in touch.
Kelvin e-mailed, “We provide year-round athletic, recreational and social activities for physically and developmentally disabled youth on the Cape”.
He continued, “We pack the park with hundreds of people every Sunday during our baseball season. We would be honored if you would be our opening day speaker and throw out the first pitch”.
I held my head in my hands. Public speaking is my number one phobia. But I couldn’t say no. So I instantly had the altruistic and benevolent thought, “I hate you, Kelvin”.
The next day Bob went with me to meet Kelvin at Dunkin’ Donuts. “Please don’t make me give a speech”, I pleaded with the delightful young man who had the crazy notion that since I write stories, somehow that implied that I could form words – out loud.
“Just a few sentences?” he said.
I was able to buy time by licking the cream cheese off my bagel. Bob kept kicking my leg and touching his mustache, which I found out way too much later meant that I had a huge wad of cream cheese on my upper lip.
I reluctantly agreed.
In the middle of the night before my speech, I shook Bob awake. “What if I can’t talk and just hiccup for ten syllables instead of saying words?” (Than did happen at our wedding”. “What if I can’t walk that day? What if I have a panic attack? What if…” And Bob sweetly silenced me.
He said, “You know there’s only one thing that matters”.
And so, I decided to “just show up” for the opening game.
It went beautifully. And by that I do not mean I did a good job giving my speech. It means that I faltered and stammered and even went blank twice. Should I have been embarrassed? Of course not. All I had to do was look around at the children and their parents, teachers, volunteers – and the beautiful expectant looks on everyone’s faces. They were seeing someone disabled, like them, who simply got up there and tried.
I did the weirdest thing for my speech. I told the truth. Here’s what I said:
“I am so excited to be here today with you wonderful people of the Cape Cod Challenger Club. I’m honored that Kelvin and Amy invited me.
And… I’m also scared to be talking in front of such a large group. But I’ll tell you – I’m scared of a lot of stuff and I try to do it anyway.
So my message to you is his: Winning doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters… is that we try!! Now, who’s going to help me toss the first pitch?” Many children, all disabled, raised their hands. “I will! I will! They excitedly came running over to help me. I was very wobbly. My crew of helpers kept me from falling. I had the children hold onto my arm and the ball so that they also felt they were tossing the first pitch. And when we did, we all yelled, “PLAY BALL!”
Then someone handed me a huge bouquet of flowers.
You know, I found out that it wouldn’t have mattered if I lost my balance. It wouldn’t have mattered if I suddenly had trouble talking or any of the bad things that sometimes happen to me.
The only thing that mattered was that I just showed up – for the children’s sake – for the caregivers’ sake – and for mine.
Thank God I had that chance encounter in the woods that day with Morris. Although he told me he walked there every day, I haven’t seen him since.
And even though I know over forty people who walk that same path in the woods, not one of them has ever seen Morris. Kind of makes you wonder.
- Saralee Perel