When Courage Fails You

This was originally published on Medium.

I am not what you would call “faint-hearted”.

I have been shot at and stabbed. I have been beaten with rakes, bricks and rocks. My early childhood was a first class education in pain and intolerance, whose scars I still carry today.

Because of this colorful childhood, not much scares me or intimidates me. Been there, done that. I learned early on that the only way to survive was to master your emotions and to be in control.

Going through these early experiences and coming out of them, helped me find my courage. Courage to overcome fear and to master it, not to let it master you. It became a point of pride, and something that I was known for.

"That’s Chris, that dude isn’t scared of anything", my friends would say. I would just smile.

I travelled through life, surfing on this current of courage. I had thought I was ready for anything, could meet any challenge head on and defeat it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The day my courage failed me should have been one of the happiest days of my life. The day my oldest son was born. I walked into the hospital riding that old wave of courage and certainty, but within a few hours I found myself drowning in a sea of fear.

Things began innocuously enough. My wife’s water broke and we whisked her off to the hospital. She was quickly admitted and the waiting game began. We timed contractions, gritted our teeth through pain and talked about the miracle we were about to receive into our lives.

After a couple of hours of labor, the doctor noticed something wasn’t quite right. There should have been more progress in our son’s travel to the outside world. He seemed stuck.

More monitors were attached to my wife and slowly the reality of our situation became clear.

The most terrifying sound I have ever heard was the sound of my son’s heartbeat decelerate during a contraction.

The umbilical chord had wrapped around his throat. He was effectively stuck in place, and each time a contraction would hit, the chord would restrict his breathing affecting his entire system.

Every time a contraction would hit, my son was in danger of losing his life. Each time I would hear that damn sound, another section of this wall of courage I had built around myself would fall.

My left hand began to twitch, and I could feel my heart beating faster and faster, like a wild animal striving to escape its cage and find some dark, safe place to hide.

I was barely keeping it together. Another hard contraction hit, and my wife realized what was going on. At that moment, seeing the fear in her eyes and knowing I was impotent in the face of it, the last vestiges of my courage fell.

I was awash in the blackest fear you could imagine. The fear for those you love more than yourself. The fear born of the knowledge that you can do nothing but stand by and watch as events play themselves out.

At that moment, when all was lost and I was certain I would begin crumbling to pieces, my mother grabbed my hand and squeezed it.

Such a simple, common day event. How many times had that happened in my life? How many times had it happened that day?

At that moment, in that place, it was like a beacon of hope and calm in the storm I was drowning in. Within moments, my wife’s parents were there as well, holding on to me, grounding me.

Together we shared what courage we had, and amplified it. Together we met the oncoming storm and turned it back.

An emergency c-section was performed, and with a new found reservoir of courage I walked into the operating room and stood there, holding my wife’s hand while the surgeons saved my son’s life.

My courage had failed me, but my family and friends had not. Looking back at it now, I realized that courage is an additive process. Human beings are wired for community.

We are better, stronger and more courageous together.

Now, so many years later, we begin the process again. We are expecting another child, another miracle. As the specter of that day seven years ago begins to rise from my memory I reach out.

I reach out to friends and family. I reach out to my wife and son. They hold me, they keep me afloat and they keep me courageous.