VALOR AND SURVIVAL

It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“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. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever 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 pleasantly 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 hardly deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or you shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people 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.



Categories: Humor, Life, Words

Tags: , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Love the PIC of you and Gary on The Cyclone… YOU BRAVE SOULS! 🙂

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  2. I get it. Totally get it. When someone calls me brave or strong for continuing the fight with the ol’ bipolar disorder, it’s like, “REALLY? What the fuck else am I gonna do?” We’re survivors. We have our battle wounds and we have our pride (although foolish at times) and we had NO CHOICE but to keep on keepin’ on. Amen, sister!

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  3. I think to survive death threatening illness or injury shows are strength both physically and intuitively. Not courage. I agree bravery is helping other people stay alive. Wonderfully said.

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  4. A most interesting and thoughtful take on the subject, Marilyn. This clarity of thought is one of the many reasons I love reading your posts! xxx

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    • I always feel it’s impolite to say “No, really, I’m not brave. I’m just a survivor.” But it sounds rude, so I shut up. I guess I can be congratulated on being tenacious of life, but I think it was hard-wired into me at birth. I mean, really, what’s the alternative? Lying down and dying? That only works in the movies. Around here, the dogs will see it as an opportunity for some “floor time!”

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  5. You said the most you could be accused of was “doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy” but couldn’t that be considered somewhat heroic? Standing up for what is moral and fair when others laugh at you for doing so isn’t easy but then why does it bothers others that you did?

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    • Maybe these days when doing the right thing is less common than it ought to be, but it shouldn’t be considered heroic or remarkable. Doing the right thing should be normal, even when it’s inconvenient. That it isn’t is a sad commentary.

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  6. This comes close to touching on what I consider to be the proper definition of heroism. To be a hero, you also have to make a choice: to voluntarily put your own life in danger (or greater danger) to help someone else. So, under this definitions most of the people working in the World Trade Center who died on 9/11 were not heroes; they were victims. The heroes were, for example, the firefighters who entered the buildings after the attack.

    By the same token, Captain Sullenberger, who successfully ditched a U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River is correct when he claims that he is not a hero. He is a wonderfully skilled pilot who performed his job flawlessly, but he was in the same situation as the passengers on that plane. Heroism was not called for on that day.

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