What Is Courage?

by Elder S. Dilworth Young

of the First Council of the Seventy

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    December 23, 1805, the Prophet Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. The following account tells of his great courage and love as a young boy.

    Joseph Smith, age eight

    Or nearly nine,

    His peaked face white against

    The pillow.

    The typhus left him weak

    And with an ulcer in his

    Neck which caused a deep

    And throbbing pain

    Until the doctors lanced it,

    Giving him some ease.

    Then suddenly he called:

    “Mother, there is a pain in my leg

    So great I scarce can bear it.”

    The leg was swelling badly.

    Day after day his mother

    Held him in her arms

    Trying to comfort him.

    For two long weeks his brother

    Hyrum held his leg,

    Elevated it,

    Massaging and rubbing it—

    All in vain—the pain became

    Intense. The pain, the

    Deep bone pain.

    The surgeons, the best

    That could be had in

    That day, knew little

    Of the causes of disease

    Or of infection.

    They didn’t sterilize their hands

    Or the instruments

    They used to cut.

    Plenty of people died because

    Of this ignorance, but some


    No one knows just why.

    “It is our best judgment,

    After consultation, that

    We must amputate his leg

    To save his life,” so said

    The chief surgeon.

    His mother pled,

    “Is there not one more

    Thing that you can do

    To save his leg?”

    “We have made

    An incision eight inches

    Long and

    Exposed the bone.

    The bone is bad.”

    “Can you not cut away the bad

    And leave the

    Good to heal?”

    “All we can do is try.

    We can’t be sure.”

    “Then try, for I cannot

    Bear to have him lose

    His leg.”

    The boy sat up in bed,

    The grave-faced surgeons,

    His mother, his father,

    Hyrum, all facing him:

    “You are not going to cut off

    My leg, are you?”

    Gravely the surgeon spoke,

    “We are going to try to save it,

    But to operate we’ll have to

    Tie you down. Bring cords!”

    “I will not lie tied!

    I will endure if Father

    Will hold me in his arms

    And Mother leaves the room.

    She could not bear to see me suffer.

    Doctor Stone, will it hurt

    More than the cutting did?”

    “Much more!

    Will you drink this whiskey?

    It will help deaden the pain.”


    “Then will you drink this wine?”

    “No! I’ll endure the best I can

    With Father’s help.”

    The surgeon broke off

    A piece of infected bone.

    Joseph screamed with pain.

    His mother, hearing,

    rushed into the room.

    “Go out, Mother! Please go!

    I promise I’ll endure.”

    She walked the back field,

    Too far away to hear,

    Until the work was finished.

    Finally he lay exhausted,

    His pinched white

    Boyish face quiet on the pillow.

    His father standing over him:

    “Good boy! You were brave.

    I am proud of you.”

    He held his son firm,

    His arms like iron bands

    Encircling him and holding

    Him like cords, yet giving him the

    Courage to endure.

    Encircling cords are bonds.

    Encircling arms are love.

    Illustrated by Ron Crosby