We were watching a rerun of NCIS, an 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. Fun and I don’t regret it, but there’s nothing heroic about riding the Cyclone — at least not these days since they repaired it.

Maybe it was braver — more like stupider — when I was a kid. Back then, pieces of it would fly off while you rode the rickety rails at 70 mph. But I digress.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived cancer and heart problems and a myriad other life-threatening ailments (so far, so good). As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all of that and have a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always a trip to the Cyclone and doesn’t require years of recovery and rehab.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship still alive but hardly deserving a medal. No one gives medals for surviving. Nor should they. Saving your own life (and occasionally, dragging others with you to safety) is your survival instinct at work. It’s not valor. N0t bravery.

Staying alive is hard-wired into the DNA of all living things. Otherwise, life on earth would have long since vanished. It may yet.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You make a willing and conscious choice to put yourself in peril for the sake of others. There must be a choice involved. Taking risks for fun, to make money, or because your imminent demise is the only other option isn’t courageous. It’s what we do to keep alive. Some of us are better at it than others, but that doesn’t change the essence of the experience.

Medal of honor from Obama

If you do it for fun, it’s entertainment. If you’re doing it for profit? It’s shrewd business sense.  If it’s choosing to live rather than die? That’s your survival instinct at work.

I have never done anything I would define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. I’ve gotten myself into tight corners — accidentally — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve occasionally put others ahead of me to help when I could. Never did I put myself in harm’s way to save another.

The best I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t the easiest choice. You don’t get medals for that, either.


Categories: Humor, Life, Words

Tags: , , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. As much fun as the loopy loop, upside down, inside out modern coasters are, nothing quite beats the rickety old woodies for sheer thrill. It’s good for popping out all of the kinks in the old back (and maybe a few teeth as well)….


    • It’s that they are so shaky, you know? It always feels like they’re going to fall down. It adds a layer of genuine terror to the fake terror. Do we all wonder what would happen if a pigeon landed on the track?


  2. Are you in the front seat of that coaster? Bold!


  3. I love that photo and I love this post for its honesty and the last line


  4. Love this post. Wonderfully written, and the photo of you two on the coaster: priceless!


  5. There’s a lot of good points there Marilyn, and one has to agree with you. Sometimes it’s a matter of luck (good/bad/otherwise) that you are thrown into a position where you are challenged to prove your valour.


  6. The bravest person I’ve ever known was my dad who, when he was diagnosed with MS, left his job in academia as a scientist doing cool experiments and went to work for the DOD so that when he died (which he knew would be at a relatively young age — and it was; he was 45) his wife would be cared for financially and his kids could use his GI bill to go to college. To me that and some other choices he made are courage.


  7. Fun? Entertaining? You look terrified on that ride! Hahahaha, the funniest thing I have seen today. I actually laughed out loud. I have had a glimpse of self-preservation working in my life, but it was more in the way of being cowardly. It only lasted a second or two and I chose to do the right thing, but saving myself from consequences was my absolute first thought. My life was not in danger, though. Had that been the case I probably would have had to think about it a bit longer. Hell, I don’t even get on roller coasters anymore since I rode the Mouse at Pacific Ocean Park back in 1965. I truly thought that thing was going to fly off the rails into the sky! I probably looked like you in that picture! Thanks for the laugh.


    • Oddly, I wasn’t terrified, but that first drop always produces a LOT of adrenaline, no matter how many times you’ve been there and done that. I’ve been riding that old roller coaster since I was 8 years old. I think my coaster days are over because my back and arthritis have decreed it, but that first drop is the whole reason for doing it. If you didn’t want that shock of falling, you wouldn’t do it. Even the screaming is fun.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The first.., and LAST time I road a roller coaster I looked like Garry in that picture, but the girl I was with, whom I was trying to impress, was calmly tying her scarf through my screams. On top of the embarrassment of that experience my fear of falling was brought to its present maturity .


  8. I think if we are awake and like to come to grips with everything that changes, which I do. I mean we all mastered the master programme in WordPress and that was really a test, bravery is not a word you use. You get on with it, take it as it comes and above all stay cool. I tend to errupt with profanities if something does not suit me, but they are only words. I have learnt a lot lately and just keep busy (and out of trouble). I am not brave, do not want to be brave, just survive and learn on the way.


    • I think, by our age, since we aren’t two of the lucky souls who manage to get this old with no physical issues (though we seem to have our brains still intact and that’s a HUGE plus!!) … survival has become an art. We could write self-help books on surviving the vicissitudes of aging. We could become the official Wise Women of our tribe. Maybe make a few bucks. Finally win that Pulitzer 🙂

      I don’t want a medal … but I wouldn’t mind a large cash payment. Just saying.

      Liked by 1 person

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