courage & a zest for life

Courage & a Zest for Life

I watched a dramatized documentary and a straight documentary back-to-back this afternoon, and then I had to get out of the house.

At the coffee drive-up window I got caught behind two walk-up customers who placed an order for what turned out to be eight complex iced drinks with exotic names that took the barista twenty minutes to throw together. While they waited the walk-ups took pictures of each other with their smart phones, then looked at their handiwork and laughed like hyenas. Then the girl somehow got her smart phone to blast out some loud rap music, and the guy hunched over, snapping his fingers and wiggling his ass. I smoked two cigarettes and seriously contemplated running them down with my van.

When I finally made it up to the hill, a marching band below on the rodeo grounds was practicing a hideously out-of-tune rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. I rolled up all the windows.

The dramatized documentary was about Ludwig Guttmann, a German Jew who escaped Nazi Germany during the Second World War, a doctor/surgeon/neurologist who went to work at a convalescent hospital in England.

The straight documentary was about a fourteen-year-old Dutch girl, Laura Dekker, who sailed around the globe solo on a forty-foot sailboat.

What the two had in common was courage and a zest for life for which they were labeled arrogant, insane and dangerous.

What Guttmann did the first day he walked onto the spinal-injury ward at the hospital he was assigned to was rip down the dark drapes and throw open the windows. What he did was saw the full-body cast off a patient that was put there to protect him from harming himself; the man’s body was covered with raw sores. What he did was get the men off morphine that was being administered to keep them tranquil. What he did was bring in a victrola and live entertainment, get the men out of bed and into wheelchairs, get them lifting weights and doing exercises and eventually wheeling them all down to the local pub for a few pints of stout. He got them playing basketball and hockey in their wheelchairs and eventually formed them into teams, setting the stage for the Special Olympics. He did all this in the face of fierce opposition until his success began to draw notice, and then everyone jumped on the bandwagon.

Laura Dekker was born on a boat. She’d been sailing since before she could walk. She could use a sexton and chart a course and she knew all there was to know about boats, and when she was eight she began dreaming about being the youngest person to sail around the world, solo. When she was thirteen her father, a boat man to the core, gave her the boat to do it in, and all hell broke loose. CPS stepped in, declared the father unfit, and declared Laura unbalanced, petulant and in need of psychiatric care; they made a move to put her in a foster home which her father fought all the way to the Dutch Supreme Court. And he won. He won, and at the age of fourteen, off Laura sailed. And she did it. It took her two years.

But she’d had it with the Netherlands. She’d had it with the Western World and its monetary sense of morality. She sailed off for New Zealand.

This is what my head was full of when I pulled in at the drive-up window. This is what my head was full of as the marching band butchered The Star Spangled Banner. And this is what my head is still full of, two new heroes to join the pantheon of heroes I’ve gathered over the years to give me the strength to never go down on my knees for anyone.

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