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Courage is a Three Letter Word [Secure eReader]
eBook by Walter Anderson

eBook Category: Self Improvement
eBook Description: Part autobiography, part self-help book, part celebrity profile, part meditation on success and emotional health, Walter Anderson's Courage is a Three Letter Word has been an inspiration to countless people since it was first published in 1986. It begins with a famous interview question directed to John Ehrlichman, a former Nixon aide and disgraced player in the Watergate scandal. With uncommon but characteristic candor, Anderson asks Ehrlichman why he hasn't killed himself. Ehrlichman takes a deep breath and tells the story of what he went through in the face of national scorn and how he found the will to rebuild his life. Ehrlichman's is only one of many personal narratives weaved through this book. Anderson interviews highly successful people such as John Glenn, Barbara Walters, Jerry Lewis, Carroll O'Connor and asks them the kind of direct questions that stir them to discuss the anxieties and insecurities that have plagued them and how they found the courage to overcome those anxieties and insecurities. One of the best things about the book is the surprising way it interweaves different narratives. Anderson's chapter on John Glenn, for example, discusses how the Senator was able to overcome different kinds of obstacles ranging from an accident that thwarted his first attempt at running for public office to a mishap during one of his historic space flights. Glenn candidly talks about these events, and Anderson uses the episodes to illustrate a point he returns to throughout the book: the difference between anxiety (concern about an unpredictable future) and fear (an emotion provoked by immediate danger). What is interesting and telling is how the focus of the chapter abruptly shifts to Glenn's wife Annie, whom Glenn singles out as the most courageous person he knows of. A lifelong stutterer, Annie learns how to conquer her fear and her affliction, becoming a talented public speaker. The point Anderson makes in his chapters is that anxiety and insecurity exist in all of us, prominent persons and ordinary citizens alike. But so does the courage to overcome that which holds us back. Perhaps the most touching tale of all is Anderson's own, which he relates through different intimate anecdotes over the course of the book. With remarkable frankness, Anderson tells how he went from being a high-school dropout to editor of Parade magazine. His story is how an ordinary man struggled to face his feelings of self-doubt and self-loathing and prevailed.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2002

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Chapter 1

What Will I Do When They Find Out I'm Me?

It was Good Friday, April 17, 1981, and I had just asked John Ehrlichman why he had not committed suicide.

He sat across from me at a small table in a rear corner of Danny Stradella's Restaurant on East Forty-sixth Street in Manhattan. We had walked there from my office, which was only a half-block away. Our conversation was polite, correct. As we spoke I wondered whether I had made a mistake by agreeing to meet this former presidential aide, a character I remembered from the Watergate hearings in 1973 as arrogant, contemptuous -- frankly, to my mind, a man who had threatened my country.

Yet, there he sat, now bearded and bespectacled, only inches from me.

"My life is different today," he offered. An understatement, I thought, as I noticed that he spoke tentatively and not with the pompous self-assurance that had alienated millions of his fellow Americans who watched him on television defending Richard Nixon. I noticed something else, too. His bearing. No longer the mighty bull, he was more a calf stepping out of the barn into the sunshine for the first time. His steps were hesitant. He spoke softly, leaning away.

I did not order a drink.

He did not order a drink.

I ordered an appetizer.

He ordered an appetizer.

I ordered the special.

He paused. "The special," he told the waiter.

"John," I said, "as editor of Parade magazine, I have a responsibility to readers in more than twenty million homes...." He nodded quickly, assuring me, "I understand."

"Good," I said, "because some of what you will hear from me will be painful. If you are to write for Parade, though, I need to know first who you are, who you really are."

Again he said softly, "I understand."

Released from Swift Trail Federal Prison Camp in Arizona on April 27, 1978, three years to the month before this lunch, John Ehrlichman had already written two successful novels about the presidency, including The Company, which became a popular TV movie, Washington Behind Closed Doors, starring Jason Robards, Jr. His prison time behind him, divorced and remarried, he was trying to expand his range as a writer and, with a young family dependent on him, he needed to earn more money. His indomitable literary agent, Mort Janklow, had arranged our meeting, although I warned Mort, "He will have to answer some tough questions."

"Walter, my friend," Mort replied, "John Ehrlichman has answered tough questions. Please meet with him and let me know what you think."

What I thought was that John Ehrlichman had lived my darkest nightmare; he had been shamed before an entire nation -- ridiculed and stripped. How, though, could his experience be my nightmare? We seemed to share so little. He was a convicted criminal, a former high government official who had been ostracized by many of his countrymen; I was the editor of the largest-circulation magazine in America, the chairman of the board of a fine college, a respected citizen in my community. Yet, although I had broken no law, I found myself asking, What if I, like John Ehrlichman, lost everything? My concern, though groundless, was nonetheless real to me. I was groping with an important difference, as you'll discover later, between fear and anxiety.

"There's not a city you can enter," I said, eye to eye with the man across the table, neither Ehrlichman nor I eating, "not a cab, a hotel, a school, a theater, a store you can visit in which someone might not hold you in contempt. Your very name can inspire revulsion in almost every nook and cranny from coast to coast. How can you live with this?"

I took a breath. "Why have you not taken your life?"

Deep down I knew I had asked the question not for the readers of Parade, not for journalism, not for history, but for me. I wanted to understand how any person could survive such terrible public shame. John Ehrlichman, after all, had been a trusted aide to the President of the United States. His fall -- going from the White House, where he wielded enormous power, to the prison in which he served his time -- had been steep, complete and humiliating. What, I wondered, kept him alive?

"I thought about dying," he said. "Actually, I thought about it a lot. My name is John Ehrlichman and I know better than anyone else that what you say is true. I had to decide for myself whether to live or to die. That was the choice. No one else could pull me out of self-pity. If I couldn't live with the truth that many people will never accept me as a person, if I have to depend on others for my self-esteem, then I must choose death. If I wanted to live, I had to quit my depression. I had to say my life had value, and I had to mean it. I chose life."

John Ehrlichman's voice had been soft until his last sentence: "I chose life." I'll never forget those words or the voice in which he spoke them.

Copyright © 1986 by Walter Anderson

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