It’s funny how talking can bring things into action. Since Lisa and I began working on this project about teaching our children courage, we’ve naturally been discussing the topic with our kids. I’ve been sharing more stories with a courage theme with K., and Lisa and I have both talked with our girls about what we call “courage challenges.” Everyone has a different discomfort zone, and the more we can find ways to push against our own boundaries and limitations, the stronger our courage becomes.
“Courage is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it becomes, so that when you have really big challenges as an adult you’ll be able to face them and do what you know is right and good.”
“So what have you done as a grown-up that needed courage?” she asked me, not surprisingly.
I resisted the temptation to ask if she thought adopting an 8-year-old from a foreign country as a single mother might take a bit of steel. Instead, I reminded her that I had raised a guide dog puppy.
This is something I did in my early thirties. I think there was some magical pay-it-forward thinking involved, the belief that this good deed would protect me from losing my eyesight, one of my irrational fears. I volunteered as a “puppy raiser” for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and spent just over a year with a beautiful yellow lab named Wheaton. My job was to socialize her, teach her basic obedience, expose her to a wide variety of experiences so that when she was old enough for her serious training as a guide dog, she would be ready-steady. I loved walking her around town: she had a cape that identified her as a guide dog in training, and I fancied it made her look like a four-legged superhero.
The almost unanimous response to what I was doing was, “I could never do that. I just love dogs so much, it would be too hard to give the dog back.”
I was always at a loss to find a polite reply. I love dogs too, you know! So much! After all, guide dogs should be raised by people who love dogs and respect their potential. What really surprised me was the general unwillingness to take on something that would be hard. Many things are hard! Most things worth doing are hard! I knew from the start that it would be hard to give the dog back; indeed, when I got the call to bring Wheaton back to the center to start her training as a guide dog, I was heartbroken. But when I went to her graduation ceremony, and saw her guide her new owner across the stage, my heart was repaired. I promise you, it was fully repaired by that sight. I realize that many people already face huge courage challenges every day, and I can understand them not wanting to take on another. It's the people who aren't being challenged (or challenging themselves) that I wonder about.
So this was the story I shared with K. I had already shared much of it with her before. She nodded. “I want to do it,” she said. “That will be my courage challenge.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Really? We can do it?” She was clearly astonished at my readiness to agree.
“I think you understand what’s involved.”
“We have to give the dog back, I know. I’ll probably cry a lot more than you did. I’m just a kid.”
This kid has already had a lot of loss in her life, more than most 11-year-olds, but her heart is very strong. She is not afraid to cry. Looks like emotional courage to me.