Reaching Out... Touching Life... Springtime

  Painting - "Yellow Violets" - Terri Waters

     It was springtime and the little girl was glad to hear the school bell ring. After all, when you are six years old and live in the Great Smoky Mountains, springtime is more fun outside than it is inside. 

     As she walked home from school, however, she thought about a word her teacher had used a few minutes earlier as she read a story to her students. The word was "courage" and it sounded like such a good word the way the teacher had used it.

     Soon, though, the word was pushed to the back of her mind as she enjoyed the freshness of the air and the fragrance of things all around her coming to life after the harsh winter. This was the afternoon that her mother promised to take her for a stroll in the woods about two hundred yards from their house.

     The little girl skipped the rest of the way home, threw her books in a chair as she entered the front door, and then gulped down a glass of milk and a couple of cookies before she and her mother began their excursion.

     They talked about the trees budding and the daffodils rising up to show the potential of things to come. Then their talk gave way to silent admiration as they soaked in thee spring with all their senses.

     Spring was interrupted, however, as they came to an area where the woods had been burned and the forest floor was black and barren. The damage apparently had occurred quite a while back - campers probably, who let a fire get out of control.

     The mother and daughter sat on a stump, taking the opportunity to rest and to imagine what had been here before the fire had erased all signs of life. That's when the word jumped to the front of the little girl's mind again. and some of the thoughts she had entertained previously were given new attention. "What is courage?" she asked, looking up at her mother. "Is it like what our cat has when she sees a dog and lays her ears back and spits at him, even when he is ten times bigger than she is?"

     The mother thought for a moment. "It's partly that," she replied, "but it is much more than that." "Oh...", the little girl responded, not really understanding what all her mother meant. 

     There was silence again before the mother shared her continuing thoughts. "Remember how I've told you about Granddaddy Willis and how he was a soldier in World War I?" The little girl nodded her head. "Well, he told me one time about something that happened in that war - something that I think helps to define courage."

     The little girl looked up at her mother, not interrupting, realizing her mother was going to continue. The mother did continue. She began to relate a story about a young soldier during the bitter bloody days of World War I, in the muddy trenches of France. The soldier saw his friend fall in no-man's land, that stretch of ground between his trench and the enemy's bastion. His friend lay in the mud, unable to move. The young soldier asked his officer, "Sir, may I go and bring him back to our side?" The officer denied the request, answering, "Son, no one can live out there. The bullets are flying and there's no place for you to hide. It's certain suicide. If you go, I will lose you as well."

     But the bonds of friendship were stronger than the compulsion to obey, and the soldier dashed out to attempt to save his friend. They had been like brothers for many months. He made his way to the fallen soldier, then knelt in the mud and grasped his buddy's limp body and slung him over his own shoulder. 

     Staggering under the load, he made his way back to their own trenches, only to fall mortally wounded with his friend. the officer wept bitterly and almost shouted in anger to the dying young men, "I told you not to go. Now I've lost two good men. It wasn't worth it - it wasn't worth it!"

     The soldier looked up, and with a faint smile, said to his leader, "But it was worth it, sir - it was worth it, because when I got to him, before he died, he said, 'I knew you'd come.'" 

     The mother finished her story and stood, reaching her hand down to grasp the hand of her daughter who rose to meet her touch. "That is another part of courage," she told her daughter.

     Then the mother saw something which was about ten yards from where they had been sitting. There in the midst of the charred wood and burnt stubble was a yellow buttercup thrusting itself up through the blackness. the mother pointed to the flower, "And that is courage," she said.

     The mother and daughter looked at that yellow buttercup pushing up through the burned out forest.

~ Carl Mays