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Profile in Courage

We often hear about courageous acts, such as a heroic rescue or taking a stance with a tie-breaking vote on some issue. In fact, there's been books written...

I maintain that, placed in similar situations, many of us would behave as "courageously." After all, there's often no choice; you do what you have to do.

Here is the most courageous act I have ever witnessed in my life. I couldn't have done it.


It was at an amusement park called King's Dominion in Virginia in the late 1970s. There was a little girl and boy - probably sister and brother - in one of the gift shops. They were not with their parents or any adults. The girl was maybe 7 or 8 years old, and the boy was a year or two younger than she.

The specialty of this gift shop was classy, relatively expensive, blown-glass sculptures of all kinds. The girl and boy were directly across the counter from the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper was a towering, solidly-built black man who exuded as much natural dignity as I've ever seen, not to mention having the most incredible bass voice, deep and musical.

The girl and boy were looking over and handling the glass sculptures when one or the other dropped one. Of course, the sound of shattering glass got the attention of everyone in the crowded shop.

In the panic of the moment, certain he was in "big trouble", the little boy did the natural thing: he mumbled "Uh oh," turned, and scooted out the door. (Don't worry about it, little guy, millions of us would have done the same thing.)

His older sister, while obviously terrified, did not run. With the whole store looking on, she managed to pull some money out of her pocket - a $5 bill. She held it up towards the shopkeeper, and her arm was actually shaking. She knew it wasn't nearly enough to cover the cost of the broken glass figure. In a barely audible voice she said, "This is all I have."

I'm guessing the two seconds it took for the shopkeeper to respond probably felt like an eternity. What sort of punishment was in store? Would her parents be called in? Maybe even the police? Could she be arrested for this "crime"?

There was no anger or impatience in the shopkeeper's voice. He spoke as if to an adult. He said, "No ma'am, you don't have to pay."

And then she was free to follow after her little brother.


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