Archive for January 18th, 2011

“Describe a time when you witnessed bravery: a) in your profession b) with your own eyes c) in someone you admire.”

Actually, I like the question better, “What is the bravest thing?”  But as it happens, I do know of an instance of bravery, which I will bring up before answering that question.

My stepfather is a quiet man.  Not to say that he never opens his mouth — he can hold a decent conversation with absolutely anybody, from any walk of life, the most memorable being the gravedigger at my mother’s burial.  (I don’t think anyone had ever engaged the man in conversation before!)  But when it comes to what matters in life, he’s not a talker.

Growing up, we all knew, to one extent or another, that Dad had earned a Bronze Star in Europe, and the explanation we got was that it was for exemplary service on repairs to airplanes in his squadron.  It wasn’t until one of my nephews interviewed him for school that we got the real story:  A plane had landed engulfed in flames, and Dad had gone into the plane again and again until every single crew member was out.  I don’t know why my parents withheld this from us when we were children.  Knowing Dad, probably out of concern that we would boast of it all over the neighborhood.  (We would have, too.)

This is one reason why it so galls me to hear members of the military described as “blood-thirsty killers.”  I have never known anyone to serve in the military who didn’t come out of the experience with a new and fuller appreciation for life.  You can’t see people dying next to you every day and not realized what a great gift Life is.

Which brings me to my answer for the question:  What is the bravest thing?

The very bravest thing I can think of is the person who gets up, goes through the day, goes home, and goes to bed, and then does it all over again the next day, and the next day, and the day after that — without giving in to the utter conviction that the world truly would be better off if he were not in it.  It takes enormous courage to make that affirmation of life when Life itself seems against you, and the reason I admire it is that it’s such a lonely struggle.  Nobody’s aware that you go home at night and spend the evening wrestling with the temptation to finish yourself off.  Nobody’s aware of the huge victory you’ve achieved just by going to bed at night and getting up in the morning.

You who win this victory every day:  I take my hat off to you.  And I make you this promise:  You will prevail.  It may take a long time, but keep saying it:  You will prevail.

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