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By Sally Kempton

My understanding about courage was transformed by a conversation with an ex-Special Forces guy I met in the late 1980s.

Scott (a name I've given him because I can't for the life of me remember his real one) had spent 20 years as a covert operative profiled for hyper-dangerous missions. He was a real-life version of a Nelson DeMille character--one of those guys who spent his life sneaking into Soviet embassies in places like Cambodia to steal secret papers. Then the Cold War ended, and he went home to someplace like Pennsylvania. There, he discovered that his formerly hard-drinking parents had gotten sober, joined AA, and wanted Scott to go to Al Anon, the 12-step program for relatives of alcoholics.

“What you have to realize,” he told me, “is that in all my years in the Special Forces, I'd never been physically afraid. I loved danger, and I was really good at it. Guys like me have what the Marine Corps psychologists call throwaway lives, meaning the person doesn't really care whether they live or die. But when I walked into that meeting, I was so terrified that I couldn't stay in the room.”

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5 Responses to “Finding Your Courage”

  1. Mildred

    This is what I needed to know. Ms Kemptons’ writing ability is masterful. So glad I read on.

  2. Kathryn

    This piece brought tears, the way I know something has really touched me. Sally captured it perfectly. I’ve had the chance to learn this courage as I’ve faced intense physical pain for the last three years. What at first was terrifying has opened to a place of absolute peace, the greatest safety I’ve ever known and a sense of overpowering love. The hardest thing now is what to do with all this love when it’s still too painful to leave my house.

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