strong and quiet courage
by Greg Britton 84
I work with a woman whose brother was killed in the World Trade Center
attack. I was with her that morning when we watched the nonstop television
coverage. Late that night she calls to tell me that her brother was among
the missing. I tell her to take some time off, as much as she needs, then
hang up. In the intervening months, I watch her life threaten to come
apart. At work she struggles to keep up. She withdraws from the friendly
office banter that makes us all appreciate each other. She leaves quietly
at days end and walks home alone. She says shes okay, but
those of us who know her understand that we cannot fathom the grief and
anger shes feeling. When they recover his body she tells me about
claiming his personal effects, a ring and a failed good luck charm.
I have coffee with another friend. She is struggling with her treatments
for breast cancer and seems tired. She and I both know that she may be
dying, but we talk about other things. Shes had a mastectomy, but
says she really doesnt want to lose her hair. She tells me its
her best trait and smiles. She talks in a matter of fact way about her
treatment choices. She is being brave, but I know she is scared.
My wife works with children who are what we used to call bad kids,
those headed for the criminal justice system or worse. More accurately,
she works with their families. They are almost always poor, undereducated,
and struggling with many difficult and grinding problems. These are families
on the brink of collapse. Her successes most days are measured in small
increments. Someone made it into a shelter. Someone left her abusive spouse.
Someone got into a drug treatment program and might succeed this time.
When friends ask how she stays so optimistic, she says that she looks
for the one stable element in these families and focuses on that. I know
her well of strength is deep and abiding.
We are reminded these days that heroes wear fire helmets and hardhats.
They give their lives to save others in noble and selfless ways. But in
my life I know a different kind of hero. What I see around me are womenstrong,
quiet womenwho struggle in their own ways. Their heroism is not
the kind you might notice, but I am awed by its power. For them, just
getting byjust getting through the daydemonstrates a kind
of courage that is so human and so beautiful.
Greg Britton is director of the Minnesota Historical Society Press, an
award-winning publisher in St. Paul, Minnesota: www.mnhs.org/market/mhspress
Contact Greg at Greg.Britton@mnhs.org
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