What would you do if you were fearless?

That question came up during a meeting I attended last Thursday. It was a planning session for a “Fearless Women” event that’s going to take place later this year, and as we discussed the event and the question, I had no idea how – or how often – the issues of fear and fearlessness would come up in the next 30 hours.

The first instance, shocking and frightening, was when I woke up the next morning to the news of the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I can’t even begin to imagine the fear experienced by the people in the theater that night, or of the friends and family members who went for an agonizing amount of time without any news of their loved ones, knowing only that they had been in the movie theater and there was no word yet if they were okay or if they were among the dead or injured. One of the news stories that tore at my heart the most was of a young man who was at the theater with his baby boy. As the shooting started, this man held his son close to his chest, concerned not so much about his own safety but about shielding his baby from the gunfire.

Later that same day, I attended a “Ministry of Mothers Sharing” program at St. Edward’s in Bloomington, featuring Deena Burnett-Bailey as the keynote speaker. Deena is the widow of Tom Burnett, who was on United Flight 93 on 9/11, and was one of the passengers who attempted to gain control of the plane from the hijackers. Everyone on board was killed when the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

During her talk, Deena told of the phone calls she got from her husband while the plane was being hijacked, and I got a clear and vivid reminder of the courage and fearlessness that both of them displayed that day, in very different ways. And I found myself wondering, “Could I have done that?”

Had I been a passenger on one of the hijacked planes, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t have had the courage, the strength, or the ability to take part in any attempt to overcome the hijackers. But on the ground, receiving the calls that Deena did, I hope I’d have been able to react as she did – staying calm and focused as she spoke to her husband during the several calls he was able to make to her, and as she fielded calls from other family members, and attempted to contact the proper authorities with information she had received from Tom.

Thinking about Deena, and all that she went through that day, made me remember how I felt when my son was in the Marines – especially during the times he was deployed in Iraq. When friends and family members asked about him, they often commented on how brave I was. I wanted to say that I wasn’t the brave one, my son was. I was just one of the people waiting for him back home. Praying for him, cheering for him, and – during the very rare occasions we were able to talk by phone – letting him know that we were proud of him and just waiting for his safe return.

Putting on a brave front isn’t the same as being brave, but I’ve learned since then how much it meant to my son to know that we were doing okay while he was gone.

In between the time I learned of the shooting in Colorado and I attended the program with Deena Burnett-Bailey, I had the opportunity to be interviewed on a radio show, along with the photographer who published the “Fearless Women” books, and two other women who were also in one of the books.

My segment in the interview was about my trip to Uganda last year, and the slum I visited in order to talk with young women who are trapped in a life of prostitution there.

Some people have told me since then what a fearless thing that was to do, but I don’t quite see it that way. I realize there was some potential danger, but what I was doing was more important than any fear I might have had. So I just pushed it aside.

Perhaps a better question than, “What would you do if you were fearless?” might be, “What would make you fearless?”

What would make you more concerned with someone else’s needs or safety than with your own? What would make you act in a heroic or courageous way, even if you never thought of yourself as a fearless person? Danger and patriotism can make people fearless. But so can concern and compassion.

I hope you never find yourself on a plane that’s being hijacked, or talking on a cell phone to a loved one who is. I hope you’re never in a school, a theater, or a mall when a gunman opens fire, or waiting for word of a child who is. But whenever you come up against a situation or circumstance that tests and challenges your beliefs, your values, or anything that you hold sacred and dear, I hope you find – you’re fearless.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 26, 2012.
© Betty Liedtke, 2012

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