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Shared words of courage


Shooting From The Lip

Former US President Barack Obama. Picture: Achmad Ibrahim

Barack Obama’s war cry has been retweeted 402 000 times.

“John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known.

“Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”

The 44th president was shouting out across party lines for the man he beat to the White House in 2008 by 53 to 47 percent.

But the “red-blue” political divide means nothing, at times like this.

Obama and his deputy, Joe Biden, have seen this movie before.

For McCain’s brain tumour, a glioblastoma, is the same cancer which took Biden’s son, Beau, in 2015.

Biden tweeted: “John and I have been friends for 40 years. He’s got through so much difficulty with so much grace. He is strong – and he will beat this.”

Both men have known impossible pain.

Biden’s wife, Neilia, was killed in a car crash, aged just 30, with their 13-month-old daughter, on her way to buy a Christmas tree.

This left the senator to raise their two sons alone.

McCain, a navy pilot, was shot down by a missile over Vietnam. Seriously injured, he parachuted into a lake, nearly drowned, then spent two years of solitary confinement as a prisoner of war.

His only human contact was during severe torture, but he refused early release unless his fellow-Americans were freed with him.

To escape the pain, he chose suicide – but was stopped by his captors.

Obama and Biden’s words this week were for a man of exemplary, proven courage.

But the lesson is: simple words still matter. They always count. Those treading dark journeys can use the solidarity of every one of us.

Perhaps words don’t cure cancer, but they can help defeat fear.

And as Mark Twain said: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Or Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Another military leader, Thucydides, said in Athens 2 400 years ago: “The secret to happiness is freedom And the secret to freedom is courage.”

We all have our anthems, lines we hold dear.

Perhaps someone should send McCain Radio Kalahari Orkes’ lyrics to Staan My By: “Hier kom ek vir jou haal, Hier kom ek vir jou sê Ons sal nooit gaan * ê.”

Or the line by Coldplay: “So whatever you do, don’t let go!”

Regardless of the challenge, shared words of encouragement galvanise courage, and may be more valuable than we could ever imagine.