Most of us think that courage is that bravery shown by soldiers doing heroic deeds defending their country, or perhaps the grueling, determined, recovery back from a devastating illness.
Who hasn’t been inspired by those doing a marathon in a wheelchair?
However, the rest of us have a choice to be courageous each and every day. It is not something that reaches the headlines of your local newspaper, but it is important nevertheless. None of us know how courageous we are capable of being, until we are tested. I am seen as a very courageous woman by those who know me, for the simple reason that I was the woman who had everything, and in a few short years, it had all almost disappeared. My husband had died after a 2.4 year battle with brain cancer, my company had been debilitated and gutted from internal financial fraud, and I had to battle breast cancer, and eventually sell my company because I needed to concentrate on my health. To those people who tell me how inspiring I am because I never gave up and lived to tell the tale, I reply in all humility, that you never know what you are made of until you are put under fire. And even when you are facing the broken mess of what you used to know as your life, courage is not some loud and raucous event. No, it is breathing deeply as you get up each day, resolving to rebuild your life slowly, brick by brick. But make no mistake, courage is a choice, and in the end it is only yours to make. It is yours to stand up and fight, or get obliterated by the unkind, vicissitudes of life.
I consider myself lucky to have had a mother who was a role model of everyday courage when the family faced financial challenges.
During the time my father studied at law school at nights, she took in ” paying guests” of fellow law students to help us pay the rent. She also came from an upper middle class family, but she was not too proud to take a job house cleaning for a woman of the British aristocracy, because it was a quarter of a mile from my private convent day school, and she needed money to pay for my tuition. She was a relentless seeker of the “bargain” whether it be food or clothing. And she battled more than one illness later in life where it took true grit just to want to remain on this earth. I confess and I am ashamed to say it, that I did not appreciate any of her courage when she was alive. The family financial roller coaster of my youth was an embarrassment to me amongst my wealthier friends, and later I was angry that she became sick especially with dementia, as it struck a deep chord of fear inside me that one day I would follow her path.
What I did not realize is that because I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was building some backbone in character which would stand me in great stead later in life. At the age of ten and a half, I had a two year stint as an early morning paper girl. I set off at 5:30 am on my bicycle, after being allowed to help myself to a glass of milk and two chocolate digestive biscuits. Breakfast was always waiting on my return before I changed into my school uniform and went to school. I became a paper girl in order to have more pocket money, and there was a great sense of pride even at that young age, that I was capable of earning my own money.
My father went to law school at night because his entrepreneurial ventures had failed after World War 2. Our house and possessions had been sold because of bankruptcy, but it was not too long before my parents bought two tumbledown cottages and taught themselves how to renovate them, in order to provide us with a new family home. I grew up with a paintbrush in my hand as the family moved a number of times, each time making over a house, selling it for a profit, and then buying something better. Even at that age, I was in admiration of my parents resourcefulness. They would take me house hunting, show me my next bedroom and have me visualize all the changes they proposed making in the house. I was being taught a life lesson that it is possible to face adversity and come back swinging.
My life as I knew it, between 2009, the start of my husband’s cancer and 2015 when I sold my company to take care of my health, had all but evaporated. Quite frankly, even one of these challenges would have been enough to cope with, but mine had kept coming. Each challenge was unique and emotionally devastating. Watching my husband die a vegetable, succumbing to brain cancer was probably the worst, while I tried hard to bring joy into his life each The financial ” irregularities” which had occurred in my company during my husband’s illness, still defy my imagination of how it could have happened right under my nose. By the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was beginning to think that I was cursed. I worried that I would lose my home like my parents had done before me, and I felt I was too old for another comeback. But I did make the conscious decision to fight for my life, and eventually very sensibly to let go of my beloved company which had become a financial millstone around my neck. At each new challenge during those six years, I had to do some deep soul searching. Had I got it in me to still fight? There were times when I was exhausted, wracked with emotional and physical pain, and incredulous that my life, as I knew it had all but vanished.
But each time I had to face a new challenge, I thought back to those early days of my childhood and I realized that I was my mother’s daughter, and would be a fighter to the end. I put one weary foot in front of the other on my journey to rebuild my life. I am writing this on her birthday and I salute her in Heaven. She did her job.