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Lesson 2:  Courage is more than just staying alive.

I won some beautiful awards, with truly humbling language, for covering the Afghanistan war as a journalist.

They’re beautifully designed, with lovely words — especially the one from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which claims place of pride in my parents’ home in Canada.

I say this, in all sincerity:  It doesn’t take much courage to stay alive.

I’ve analyzed it for a decade since an alleged al Qaeda bomb ripped away part of my body, and I believe clinging to life is primal for most of us.

I didn’t show any special courage in staying alive: I had the best medical attention and I had great pain-killing, consciousness-altering drugs.

Besides, I was unconscious for most of it.  The will to live was entirely selfish.  I did not want to leave my lover, whom I had married a little more than a year before.  (Working in India was part of our wedding vows.)

After 10 years, I have concluded that courage is doing all you can to save your wife (Hadi Dadashian); your colleague (Star photographer Bernard Weil); and an absolute stranger (our Afghan driver; an Agence France Presse crew who stopped when they heard the explosion and drove us to the nearest clinic; Afghan medics …).

The latter group is too large to name here.  Many, many medical workers — from Afghan medics to the best American trauma surgeons — risked their lives to save us, strangers in the Afghanistan desert, on one of the worst days of the war.

Many, many troops, from Special Ops to Army infantry, sacrificed their safety and comfort for a wounded civilian and her husband — in shock and struggling to keep his wife alive. This, during a day of heartbreaking losses on the battlefield, when helicopters sent to rescue the injured were downed, leaving more victims in the mountain snows.

Hadi marvels still at the female medic who grabbed the stretcher from his faltering hands to haul me, near-dead weight, through knee-deep sand, in freezing cold, at night, to reach a Chinook that “coptered” us out of the war zone.  This was after the first medevac plane — renamed “Mud Puppy” — became stuck in the sand and couldn’t leave.

I still marvel at everything the American military did to rescue me, a Canadian civilian.

Every day for 10 years, I have been grateful so many helped me live.

Theirs is the bravery unheralded.

Read about more lessons learned, in a 10-year retrospective.

California ranch sign (Kathleen Kenna photo)


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