Shame and Courage

For many of us, courage is not easily brought to the forefront but we pay the price for lack of it. I was five and it was Lent. The Catholic nuns at school had put a chart on the wall and said that anyone who went to the 6.00 a.m. Mass would get a gold star. Although the concept went over my head, my sister, who was one year older than me and knew much more about what was worth getting, seemed to be rather enthralled with the idea of getting the stars. So each morning, she and I would walk on our own to the little country church for the event that would earn us the treasured star.

On the way home one day, a big, black dog came bounding out from his yard and started to bark at us and chase us. Now, I must tell you that my sister and I had a great fear of dogs. The boisterous young dog was to us, beyond any reasonable doubt, a deadly, huge monster that would certainly kill and eat us. My sister started screaming hysterically and running around a pole; not a great escape plan. In the heat of the moment, I realised that the monster had his eyes on my sister and, without any thought for her obvious and tragic fate, I took the opportunity to run home without even a backward glance.

On arriving home and finding that I was indeed in one piece, my thoughts did turn to my poor sister. Oh dear, I thought, she would be dead by now. You would think that perhaps I might run inside and wake up my parents to tell them of the event in case there was a chance of saving her life. However, another great fear entered my mind. I had an even greater fear than dogs. It was getting into trouble. I remembered that my parents had told us not to wake them in the morning. I had no choice. I could not wake them and get into trouble. My sister would have to remain without rescue if indeed she was even still alive. Somehow, I put it out of my five-year-old mind and tried to play a game. To my surprise, the doorbell rang ten minutes later. There was my sister, shaken but alive. The young training priest explained that he had heard her screams for help and seen her running around the pole.

As you can tell, this relatively harmless childhood incidence is tattooed in my consciousness as a great shame. I left my sister to be eaten by the monster and then I did not even get her any help because I did not want to face the imagined wrath of my parents. Cowardice and more cowardice. How often we run from that which we are afraid of even when it means hurting or abandoning people we care about. My five-year-old lesson remained in the back of my mind as an early but poignant reminder. If we run from that which we are afraid of and abandon those whom we should try to protect, we will have a worse fate than being eaten by the monster or scolded by authority figures. We will have to carry the shame and guilt of our betrayal. Better to die with the monster than to live with the shame. Anyway, once we face the monster, we find that the monster is usually more bark and less bite than we imagined.

This article is from Love’s Longing 9781981123872


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