Heroes and Courage

A night of sleep, an afternoon of working on business, a night unknown ahead of me. There are many things that I need to do, many more that I’d like to do, and a world of uncertainty that I’ve yet to see. I have various papers, reports, inventories on my desk before me. Concerns about pricing, scheduling, staffing, whirl through my head and yet I cannot concentrate much. A fog moves through the marsh of my mind. Coffee, a cool breeze to sweep the wispy strands of uncertainty away, acts too slowly on my condition. I am bothered.

The words that enter my mind are those of courage and heroes. What is courage? What is a hero? Is the well armored knight who charges into a line of less equiped soldiers courageous? Or how about the man who, having nothing but a small flint rifle who goes to join the local militia gathering itself together against the British? What is courage? Is fear present during courage? For me, courage is doing what needs to be done even though you are scared out of your wits, even if you sincerely believe that there is no chance in hell you will succeed… you must die trying. Courage is stepping up and doing the needed actions, even when nobody is watching, when no medals are forthcoming, when the memory of your deed will be swept away with the sand by the wind. Courage is lost and found every day in the deep, secret pages of our hearts.

Do I know courage? I don’t know. I can think of times where it might seem like I did. Before I went into the Marines (and after graduation from high school) a friend covered for me while I drove my car, filled with my sister and a friend of hers, away from an escalating situation of drunken rednecks on a dirt-road party one night. When I got the car at a safe distance, I gave the driver seat to my sister, grabbed a tire iron and gave her instruction to leave and not look back if anyone else comes back down the road. I took off down the road into the dark to get my friend who had covered our escape (my sister was my main concern until that point) and I knew that the situation was grim, twelve drunken rednecks and at least two guns. Nearly to the site of the scene I was greeted by my friend, himself hurrying down the road having slipped out of the confusion and together we headed back to my car. Another time I came upon a scene where I witnessed a two young punks, one of them with a small handgun (a .22?) turn and shoot toward some young adults before turning and running down the street. I chased after but was too late in getting across the street to catch up. I’ve pulled my biological weapon protection gear on, helped my brother marine next to me, and have sat outside on a stack of sandbags in the dead of night while aircraft scramble to intercept the incoming scuds, patriot missle explode out of their shells to knock them down, and alarm sirens going off around me. I’ve shown up to an apartment fire early in the morning, pulle my firefighting gear on and was the first up the ladder onto the roof. I’ve come across a couple of drunken punks harassing bums under a bridge and have given chase to them, scaring them away from the scene. I’ve interjected myself between four men fighting and have taken control of the situation, commanding their attention. I’ve come up on a father and have grappled him out the door, him who had walked into the pool hall, grabbed his daughter by the throat and pushed her down onto the table. I’ve confronted a half dozen individuals when nobody else would exit their apartments to do so. I’ve run outside of a busy restaurant, wearing my waiter’s apron, to go intervene between a man who had struck his date in the parking lot. I’ve quit several jobs on principle, no matter the money situation when things got to a personal line drawn in my heart I’ve folded up my apron, bar towel, or manager shirt and have handed it over to the boss and quit. I’ve moved from Arkansas to Texas because of love, and moved from Texas to Oregon for my soul. Both times the future was uncertain. But I think that only one of these might constitute real courage… and that was going after my friend who had covered our escape. The rest? Scripted responses, social pressures, I don’t know.

I know what must be done in my life and yet the days go by, the hours melt away, I lose track of things. Courage is getting done what needs to be done when you don’t think you can do it, when you are scared to do it, when everyone says that it can’t be done. Getting the phone call from my grandmother, her being in bad health and her telling me that I am in her will and asking me how I felt. Where was my courage then? It was less substantial than the lump in my throat.

More recently, it is Eliza. I feel that there is a very real connection between us, that we share so many points of view, so many characteristics. And it isn’t only physical either. Yes, she is gorgeous and when her naked form moves across my bedroom I am speechless. When I see her eyes framed by her smile, my breath leaves me. Where is my courage now? But it isn’t only that. I am no stud but in the last two weeks alone I’ve had a half-dozen offers, some of them were very pretty, none worked with me, and I turned them all down. The body by itself is simply not enough to interest me. Eliza has a wonderful mind to go with her body and that interests me. pandorasroq said it best, to enjoy the good while it is good instead of only looking for the bad. A character flaw I suppose. But this is when I need courage… for this situation fits the elements for courage described above… courage is doing what needs to be done even though you are scared out of your wits, even if you sincerely believe that there is no chance in hell you will succeed… you must die trying. Courage is stepping up and doing the needed actions, even when nobody is watching, when no medals are forthcoming, when the memory of your deed will be swept away with the sand by the wind. Courage is lost and found every day in the deep, secret pages of our hearts.. I am scared out of my wits, a voice deep inside of me tells me over and over that this cannot ever work and like a sportscenter reporter, the voice in my mind draws up my history like a batting percentage “Eddie is batting .257 with 47 RBI’s but when men are in scoring position he drops to an abysmal .108 batting average and 2 RBI’s with 38 strike outs.” Because what I fear the most is failure and what is holding me back right now is the notion that no matter our nights together, no matter our walks, our conversations (which I am only recently starting to engage in), our passionate kisses and the pleasure of holding her hand while walking down the street on a cigarette run at four in the morning, it will still end in a strikeout.

Every boy who plays baseball has entertained the following dream. It is the bottom of the ninth inning of game seven of the world series. The tying run is on second base and there are two outs. You grip the bat while the pitcher delivers a 2-2 pitch and you ….

Most of the time the scenario ends with a home-run and the crowd goes wild. The dream is so fun because it is so heavily laden with meaning and pressure… pressure to win or fail. And failing so close to the goal is harder than failing a galaxy away. It is true, a study has shown that people who finished third in a race were consistently more happy than those who finished second.

Here I am, stepping up to bat in the world series. A gorgeous woman who engages my mind and my body has shown interest in me. The night is illuminated by the bright stadium lights, the crowd is cheering for a hit, hoping that I’ll hit one over the wall. I stare at the pitcher and grip my bat, place my feet into a batter’s stance. I cannot help but think about my poor batting average and the likelyhood that I’ll strike out. Will I be too needy? Will I be too cold? Will I be too expressive? Will I say too little? Will I say to much? Will I pull the bat and get jammed for a ground-out? Will I over extend my swing and swing too fast on an offspeed pitch? Where is my courage at now?

Chasing punks with a gun, confronting an abusive father attacking his daughter, watching as scud missles are shot down over the sea, fighting in a parking lot… none of these things require courage, just adrenaline. Living up to one’s dreams and ideas, being the person you dream of becoming, allowing yourself the potential to get knocked down if it means the potential to get higher… this is courage… and courage, I think… require love. A love of a dream, a love of a vision, of love of a person, a love of something bigger than your self. In a conversation with Eliza the other night, she made the rhetorical comment “how do you know when its love?” to which I had no answer… because so much is bound up into our notions of what love might mean, that it is forever, that it is pure and so on. But perhaps there is another element to it… perhaps we can know love when we are motivated to do something, even at the demise of ourselves… that is, when we act in a courageous manner to the detriment of our selves, our state of being, even our happiness for a while.

Yes, I am scared. But there is a future that I dream of, a type of person that I dream of, a type of man that I want to be… and those two will never meet, never be together unless I am first that man. The identity of the woman is unknown, she is a shadow that flies from dream to dream, night by night, riding away on the last rays of the moon. Give me courage… courage to be that man, courage to love, courage to face the pitches coming at me.

If I strike out… I’ll strike out swinging.


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