What Is Courage?

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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.

    [illustration] Illustrated by Ron Crosby