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Courage or Wisdom which is more Important – Wisdom

Too often what is read as courage is actually fear. When we become afraid our wisdom is often over powered by the possibility of death and this can lead of unpredictable fearful behavior. Eight years ago while working as Director of Education of a youth organization, I received a call from a friend; I will call her D. She begin telling me that J, a young man I had mentored for six months and known for more than a year, “has just killed his best friend’s father”. I was shocked! “What”? ” I asked. I immediately stopped everything I was doing, jumped in my car and drove several miles to the apartment complex which she managed.

When I arrived I asked her to explain the situation as she knew it. She explained that since the death of J’s mother she had allowed him to live alone in the apartment; at this time he was only fifteen years old. J’s mother had died just two months earlier due to brain damage after suffering a brain aneurysm. D had wanted to adopt J after his mother died. She had been his “other mother” for many years. She and J’s mom had been lover. She loved J dearly and felt obliged to continue to care for him.

I listened carefully as she begin telling me the details. The only thing she knew was that P had knocked on her door asking whether J was home. She replied, “Yes”! Telling him, “Just knock on the door”. Pointing down the hall to J’s apartment. She closed her door and heard him walk toward the apartment. Shortly after closing the door she heard a shot outside. Rushing outside she saw P lying bleeding while holding his chest. She asked, “What happened”? P told her, “J shot me”! She called emergency service and the police. The police and the emergency service arrived quickly. She explained what she was told to the police and J was arrested and taken away. The emergency service arrived but P died before he could reach the hospital.

I later learned that J was taken to juvenile detention. J had finished the mentoring program a year ago and therefore I no longer had any legal authority to see him in juvenile detention. However, since I had friends I was able to pull a few strings and visit him as often as I wished. He was more than surprised to see me. But before I continue, allow me to give some information about J.

He was six feet three inches tall, with the smile of a genie, heart of a baby and a sense of humor that could keep anyone laughing as long as he was in their presence. He had 14 brothers and sister that were the sons and daughters of his father. His father had died at 82, a year earlier, and his brothers and sisters would have nothing to do with him. HE WAS THE FATHER’S OTHER CHILD. When I worked with him, he was one of five young men that I mentored. I had to know where each of them was 24 hours a day for the duration of six months. For the sake of the young men I was a tough mentor, though not a requirement of the program each of my five mentees had to call me every hour on the hour.

By keeping track out each mentee I knew, if questioned, I could always report to a judge as to their “where abouts”. J finished the program with “flying colors”, having called me 3,321 times in six mouths. I would see each of them early in the morning to get them to school if needed. In J’s case when he was not at home he was a block away playing computer games with his best friend; the friend whose father he would later shoot out of fear.

As we sat facing each other I asked, “Son tell me what happened. How did you shoot this man? He explained that, “the father had called, about a rumor that he, J, “was smoking pot”, which J denied saying, “No! I do not”. The father than said, “I am going to come over and tell you how I got the nickname scar face”. Shortly, after J said, “I heard knocking at the door”. But according to “J”, before hearing the knock he had taken his rifle and hidden it outside behind a garbage dumpster and returned to the apartment.

After hearing the knock at the door he said, “I was so afraid that I didn’t answer”. When the knocking stopped and he heard the father’s footsteps leaving he went to dumpster to get the rifle. However, before he could get the rifle and return to his apartment the father spotted him and started toward him at which time J shot him, twice in the chest with a 22 long caliber automatic rifle.As I sat with J in juvenile detention listening to his side of the story, he asked “How is he doing?” I replied, J he died”!

My young friend bellowed out the horrible pain of a lost soul! Never in all my years of living had I heard such pain come from anyone! If he could have choosen to die at that moment he would have chosen it happily! “Oh! My God! Oh! My God! “What did I do?” he exclaimed. I held my young friend in my arms as his muscles tightened with grief and sorrow. I too was trying to find an answer for both of us. I could not fight back the tears flowing from my eyes. I was hoping to find a way to console him. But success was not to be mine at that moment. His words to me were, “I was thinking too fast but not enough!”

I would visit him every week and sometimes twice if I could find time. I would read to him from Richard Bach’s book, “Illusions” and somewhere after a few visits he found the courage to laugh and crack jokes again. Somehow in the reading of this story and sharing the wisdom as told by Bach about two biplane flyers we both found the courage and joy to discuss life with an expectation that even with an uncertain future one might still have something to look forward toward.

I was asked to attend J”s hearing, but I refused. I did, however, write a four page letter explaining his successful completion of the mentoring program, how well he behaved while under my care and the fact that his father, an 82 year old man had died a year before the 36 years old mother. And that J had taken her to the car in his arms after she had a brain aneurysm. He was hoping to rush her to the hospital. But only to arrive in the emergency room and have his uncle say to J, “If my sister dies I am going to hold you responsible”.

She died, never to regain consciousness, she was brain dead and after two weeks had to be taken off of the life support two months before the incident of the killing of his best friend’s father. I was there at the hospital at the death of his mother. I was called by D to pick him up to get him there. The grandmother, the aunt, the uncle and J had to conscent to disconnect the life support and he watched his mother die.

Never would I have believed I would be called a second time concerning murder by this young man of his best friend’s father. A young man that had so much future ahead of him at the age of fifteen was now looking at second or first degree murder. He received a 50 year prison sentence. He has now served one year in juvenile detention and five years in an adult prison. He would be given a forty four years probation. Today he lives with his aunt, free on parole; attending college and trying to use the wisdom he has gained and find the courage to improve his life in the face of an uncertain future like the pilots of “Illusions”.

But with both parents dead by the age of 23 life can be tough. We talk often and J’s sense of humor is still present. His wisdom at the moment of the crime yielded to fear and because of that, a man that he had known since the age of seven died. A man, a fatherly friend, that helped him fix his bicycles many times, lost his life. He, J lost his friend, shattered his soul never to be repaired as it was before. And more painfully, J’s best friend lost his father. What is truly painful two best of friends, can never see or visit each other again; because it is illegal for them to be in touch. And I am writing this brief story saying that courage is no replacement for wisdom and that wisdom is only as useful as it is made use of. And fear and courage often appear to wear the same clothes.

Even in forced combat the wisest opponent has a better possibility of winning against a brute opponent if the wise opponent uses wisdom as a strategy to defeat his adversary. In times of fear our lives might be saved if our wisdom holds. Yet I have never met a brave men that has not also felt fear.