Courage through adversity at Cooper’s Rock

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
Nine years ago, having heard about the mystical waterfalls in Havasupai near the Grand Canyon, we decided to backpack into the area.
Because I’d been struggling with bronchitis, I sat up coughing the night before we hiked in, but walking down the switchbacks posed no problem. I couldn’t understand why the people hiking out of the canyon weren’t smiling.
Once we arrived at the bottom, we explored the canyon, played in the exquisite turquoise waterfalls, and slept well. On the way out, however, the sun sucked the strength out of my legs. I climbed as far as I could and then plopped down on a rock to rest.
The heat also got to Oggie, then a young dog, so Ted gave me his camera, picked her up, and said he’d come back to help me after he carried her to our vehicle and its air conditioning.
While he was gone, a Havasupai man stopped on his horse and offered to carry my pack. He loaded it on his horse and, feeling much relieved with its weight off my back, I struggled after him up the trail.
Before long Ted returned and, between the two of them, I made it out of the canyon. I never wanted to repeat that experience.
Even though I don’t do well backpacking I try to stay in shape, and whenever we visit our family in St. George I hike the trails by the Virgin River.
I was just returning from a walk when I spotted a man sitting on my mother-in-law’s cinder-block wall, his entire body sagging with exhaustion.
His white hair was disheveled, but he was neatly dressed in tan slacks, a plaid shirt, and sunglasses. He held a cane between his legs and a portable oxygen tank lay beside him on the wall.
As I came up to him he straightened, turned to look at me, and said, “I hope you don’t mind my sitting here, but I ran out of gas.”
Since no car had stalled nearby, I asked, “Do you need something to eat? We’ve got juice and protein bars in the house.”
“No, thanks,” he said. “I carry water and sugar-free wafers with me. I gnaw on the wafers, and they keep me going. I try to walk around this complex twice a day, but I usually have to rest before I get home.
“They call that rock by the Episcopal Church “Cooper’s Rock” because that’s where I usually sit. I didn’t make it that far today. Do you live here?”
“No, my mother-in-law does.”
He moved his head a little. “Oh, sorry. I’m blind, so I can’t recognize people anymore.”
I stared at his dark glasses. I hadn’t realized they served as more than simple protection from brutal sun.
“The blindness comes from diabetes and my lungs don’t work as well as they used to.” Cooper toyed with his cane. “My doctor says it’s good for me to exercise so I walk every day. They’ve got these handy-dandy portable oxygen tanks now but when I get too winded I stop and rest.”
“Do you get along okay by yourself?” I put down my water bottle and wiped my forehead. It was nearly eight and the sun already felt intense.
“Yes, if I stay on the cement although I did fall once. I waited until I heard someone stop at the sign up there.” With a nod of his head, he indicated the stop sign at the next intersection. “Then, I yelled like crazy. The guy finally heard me, and he could see I was scattered all over.
“My oxygen tank was over yonder, my cane had flown into the grass, and my glasses were catawampus, so he got me up, dusted me off, and asked me where my wife was. Don’t know how he knew I had a wife. Anyway, I called her on his cell phone, and she came and got me.”
“Your wife must have a lot of confidence in you.”
“Believe me, I got a tongue lashing that day, but she knows the neighbors watch out for me. Well, I hope you don’t mind my sitting on your wall.”
“Of course not. Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?”
“I’m sure. As soon as I rest up I’ll be on my way.”
“My car’s in the garage.” I pointed at my mother-in-law’s garage and then realized he couldn’t see my finger or the garage. “I could run you home without any problem or I could walk with you and carry your oxygen.”
“No, thanks. My wife wouldn’t like me putting you out.” He smiled. “I’m fine. Besides, it’s my adventure for the day. Believe me, the rest of the day is pretty boring.”
“Okay, if you’re sure.” I headed toward the house. “It’s supposed to get up to 109 today, so don’t stay out too long.”
“I won’t. Have a nice day!”
“You, too.”
When I went out to check on him 15 minutes later he was gone. I walked to the intersection and peered up and down the street but saw no sign of him.
For the rest of my nice day, I thought about Cooper and his courage in the face of diabetes, blindness, and lung problems. His daily walk twice around the complex loomed as large in my mind as tackling Havasupai again—no, larger.

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