If I’m still thinking about the characters in a book or movie long after the final chapter ends or the credits have rolled, then I’d say the author or actors did their job. I saw the movie We Bought a Zoo a few weeks ago and something the main character (Matt Damon) said is still rattling around in my head. He told his kids to “Just give me 20 seconds of courage and I’ll guarantee you something great will happen.” I find that line compelling, especially when I feel uncertain about my ability to accomplish something. But we usually associate courage with facing some kind of danger. The characters I write about in my mysteries are always thrust into dangerous situations that require courage or, at the very least, a clever way to overcome an obstacle or the murderous villain in their path.
We may encounter obstacles in real life but rarely are they as dramatic as those found in fiction. However, they can require just as much courage to overcome. The dictionary defines courage as “the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it.” I read a book recently titled Heft, which was about a 400 pound man who was afraid to leave the confines of his home. A virtual recluse who’d withdrawn from all human contact, he ordered his necessities over the Internet and had them delivered to his doorstep. No one ever visited him. The story of how he summoned the 20 seconds of courage to change his life still resonates with me today.
I believe courage is about attitude. It’s about developing a frame of mind that allows you to believe in yourself. With belief comes action. With action comes the possibility of success. And yes, the possibility of failure. I’ve known both. What gives me comfort is what Theodore Roosevelt once said: “The credit belongs to the man (and woman) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming . . . and if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” So when I’m afraid, when I suffer from doubt or worry, when I think I can’t go on any longer, when the goal I seek is still far from my reach, I remember this: Twenty Seconds. Give me twenty seconds of courage and great things will happen.