When I was a teacher librarian, one of the books I read to my students was Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry.
On the island of Hikueru in the South Pacific, Mafatu was terrified of the sea and the sea god. When he was three years old, his mother had taken him out past the lagoon in a canoe to search for urchins.
But an unexpected storm swept them into the pounding waves and overturned their canoe. Cast up on shore, his mother had just enough strength to feed Mafatu from a cracked coconut before she died. He was rescued, but this trauma left him terrified.
He had been named “Stout Heart” by his father, but most people called him “The Boy Who Was Afraid”. On an island where the sea was all-important, where the skills of swimming and fishing and killing sharks proved one's manhood, he stayed at home making spears and nets and shark lines for the other boys. He was mercilessly teased and mocked.
There was only one thing to do. He must go out to the sea and prove his courage to himself and others. Men should never again call him “The Boy Who Was Afraid”. And his father should say with pride, “Here is my son, Stout Heart”.
So one dark night when he was 15, he crept out of the village, and taking his faithful dog Uri, he stole away in a canoe. Kivi, the albatross he had befriended, flew overhead, guiding him out into the open sea. Out where he feared everything. He almost turned back until he remembered his best friend's voice, “Mafatu is a coward”.
After days of sailing and being whipped around by a storm and having his canoe torn to pieces and clinging to its floating wood, Kivi guided him to an uninhabited island. Immediately he began preparing for the necessities of life. He built a hut and a fish trap and prepared food from fruits. With a knife ground from a whale bone that he found, he killed a shark and an octopus. He also began building a canoe, for he knew that one day he must return to his own island.
On exploring the island, he discovered a great statue, and he knew this was the sacred site of the feared man-eaters. Man-eaters who might someday come from their own island and discover him. He stole a spear from the statue—something in itself which called for great courage to oppose their god. And with this spear he killed a boar, making a necklace of its teeth, so prized in his community.
He felt great pride rising up in him. But most importantly, he knew he was winning a great victory over himself. He had feared much, and now he was discovering a newfound confidence. The taste of victory salted his lips.
Once his canoe was finished--for it had taken many days to build—he was ready to sail home. He stocked it with food and drink, ready to leave in the morning. But the man-eaters had come to the island and discovered him. As he fled from his pursuers, courage blazed from his eyes. He outpaced them, reached his canoe and sailed away that night, again accompanied by his dog Uri and guided by Kivi the albatross. He recognized the sea might destroy him on his journey home, but he shouted, “Sea god, I am no longer afraid of you!”
As writers, we can sometimes see ourselves in Mafatu. We must challenge the voices that say we can't do it, that we're cowards. When we sail away into fear, we are accompanied by God who inspires and calls us to be strong. We challenge ourselves with our skills to create something new. As we do so, courage rises in us. We race toward our destination, outpacing the evil that pursues us. And guided by God’s Spirit, we accomplish our journey.
“Place your strength in the transcendent power of the Lord”
(Ephesians 6:10 Mace NT)
 Armstrong Sperry, Call it Courage, New York: Simon Pulse, 1940, 1968)
Thank you Sandi! I loved your retelling of this classic tale and how you wove its lessons into present application for us as writers and believers. Wonderful!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Tracy. There were so many parallels to our lives and our writing in this story that it was hard to choose applications.Delete
Thank you, dear Sandi, for blessing us with this story that reminds us to "place (our) strength in the transcendent power of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:10 Mace NT)ReplyDelete
God's plans and power are unthwartable. This is the Rock inspirational writers need to write from.
Thanks Wendy, For sure our inspiration comes from the Lord!Delete
Thank you for retelling this illustrative story so well, Sandi. I hear your writer's voice in it. The sentence which stood out to me: "When we sail away into fear, we are accompanied by God who inspires and calls us to be strong." Often God calls us to write from a place of vulnerability, and that can cause fear. Knowing He is with us in the writing makes all the difference.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your comments Valerie. Writing from a place of vulnerability isn't always easy, but it's often what touches the readers' lives the most.Delete
Hi Sandi. This is a great post. I love how the story speaks to writers. "We must challenge the voices that say we can't do it, that we're cowards." These voices indeed need to be challenged to prevent defeat. We are not defeated, we persevere. Blessings, my friend.ReplyDelete
We are not defeated as we persevere. How true! Thanks for your inspiring comment, Alan.Delete
What an absolutely wonderful story of courage and overcoming. May God help us all to be brave. Thanks, Sandi.ReplyDelete
To be brave--that's a wonderful prayer for us all to pray!!Delete
I love that Nelson Mandela quote. And what a great story from your long ago teacher librarian days. As Alan said, it's a good word for writers. The line that stands out for me today: "We must challenge the voices that say we can't do it..." Oh yes. Thanks, Sandi, for an inspiring post.ReplyDelete
Thanks for your comments, Brenda. Nelson Mandela's wisdom has been inspiring to me. It's also wisdom to be courageous and challenge inner and outer voices that say we can't do it.Delete
Great book talk, Sandi. Now I want to read Call it Courage and I have 600 on my TBR list as it is! When your "best friend" calls you a coward, do you have any friends at all?!ReplyDelete
Hi Susan, you have wonderful observations! Call it Courage is a short book with excellent descriptions and ways of expressing ideas. You'll love it! And your question about having no friends after your best friend calls you a coward is noteworthy--you just have to find new ones who will love you and believe in you no matter what. And to pray God will give you those friends.Delete
“Sea god, I am no longer afraid of you!” Sandi, its good to shout at whatever may intimidate us as writers. Run to the roar.ReplyDelete
Thanks Bob. we need to shout fearlessly at what intimidates us. I love your comment, "Run to the roar." I'll keep that for future reference!Delete