It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a couple of years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others.
“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.
“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”
My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much any more. We communicate via the Internet, not in person.
“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.
The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.
But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.
Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.
I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I don’t deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people’s too) is instinct, not valor.
Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.
My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.
If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.
Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.
Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.
I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.
The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.
Anyway, that’s what I think.