Today I would like to share a touching story written by Lauren Fortenberry. Lauren has a lovely blog where she shares her experiences through motherhood. On her words “The most important skill of motherhood, is the ability to unlearn the ways of the world and to internalize the ways of the heart.”
Thank you Lauren for sharing this beautiful story with us!
A Veteran’s Lesson in Courage
I could tell he was nervous. There is this dance of eye contact aversion that my quietest students have perfected. But I teach at the college level – composition, to be exact – and public speaking is a rite of passage.
In full disclosure, I had been anticipating this moment for over 24 hours. The student, a veteran in his mid-20s, had a story to tell.
Less than five years ago, he answered the call to serve and became a Marine. During typhoon relief in the Philippines, he was tasked with finding survivors and carrying them to the chopper.
In the midst of this endless mission, a little girl died in his arms.
It took everything within me to hold it together as he replayed the scene during his office hours visit. There is a widely held belief that teachers hear it all – that nothing phases you after the millionth tragedy. This idea is total fiction. I still ponder his words.
Of course, this isn’t the first veteran I have taught. There is the one who created an entire children’s book using Microsoft Paint. The one who brought a full-size bow and arrow to class. And the one who refused to blog under his legal name. Maybe it is their age or their maturity, but these are the students with whom I feel safest.
In the hours following our meeting, I considered the upcoming assignment: a brief 3-minute presentation inspired by narrative brainstorming. How deep would this former Marine go?
In my view from the professor’s chair the next day, I readied myself for his loaded words. But the impact never came. At a moment when he held the spotlight, when he could have easily impressed his peers, the student only focused on general details before returning quickly to his seat.
He made no mention of the children, the saving, or the death.
I thought about the stories that each of us carry – the tales we readily confess and those we hold tightly to our heart. It didn’t matter if the other 22 students in the class heard my student’s climax, the pivotal decision had already changed the most important life of all: his own.
He is now a father of two and in pursuit of a nursing degree. He wants to be ready for the next medical emergency.
Courage, my student’s story seems to indicate, is responding humbly to challenges. But writing has this amazing power to unlock pain we try to keep hidden.
“I let my wife read my paper,” he mentioned just before departing my office last week.
Lauren Fortenberry is a passionate educator, writer, and researcher, who has published and presented nationally and internationally on special topics in maternal and child health.
Currently, Lauren is a lecturer in first-year writing at Georgia Southern University. Unlearning Blog, she jokes, is her third child. She thrives on reflection through writing but also enjoys running, discussing global issues, and chasing after her two little ones!