Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

20 February 2008

Lions and cats

I got e-mail from someone the other day that contained a phrase something like “I really do admire your courage.” Now, I don’t think of myself as someone who is courageous. I think folks like Rosa Parks and Christopher Reeves had courage. I, on the other hand, just like to be myself and that isn’t courageous behavior. However, that’s when it occurred to me that courage is basically a relative thing. For instance, courage to a claustrophobe might be just getting on a crowded elevator. To the person who sent me the e-mail, the fact that I just live my life is a courageous act. To me, I'm just trying to get through the day without falling down too many times.

So, are there any absolutes when it comes to courage; absolutes that we all agree on and that might merit the comparison to the “courage of a lion”? Well, sure there are. I think that any time someone recognizes their fear and faces it and makes an effort to overcome it, that constitutes courage. To the claustrophobe, getting on the elevator takes courage, and we should all recognize that fact, even though that act might not be a big deal for most of us. Similarly, we need to laud the courage it takes for anyone to acknowledge that they are different and to be proud of themselves because of that nonconformity. Don’t ever forget that somewhere someone is gathering up the nerve to step out of the house or the closet for the first time. Those people may suddenly discover that they, too, have the courage of a lion … just like the rest of us.

In a completely different vein (or maybe not), let’s talk about suicide. We often hear a lot about how holiday time or wintertime is very depressing for a lot of people and how the suicide rate goes up at the end of the year. It occurred to me this year as I heard this statistic yet again, that even though I’ve been through some very bad, very depressing, very painful things in my life, I had never really contemplated taking my own life. Movies and the popular press would lead us to believe that everyone has thought about suicide at some point, especially at a really low point, in their lives, but not me. I started to wonder if I was actually mentally deficient because I HADN’T looked upon suicide as a way out: a relief from a bad situation at some of those terribly depressing times.

I quickly convinced myself that I wasn’t any worse off than I had thought and that I was only as warped as I had ever been. But that again opened up the question of why I hadn’t looked at that final escape. My initial thought was that I really did have some kind of absolute courage (see, it ties together) to face up to all my problems and to try and solve them. That thought, however, was immediately followed by a loud internal declaration of “Bullshit!”. I know only too well that I do run from problems, just not in the direction of suicide. But I think I finally figured it out.

I never contemplated suicide because I never want to die -- period. Not because I’m afraid of death or any such thing as that. No, it’s much simpler than fear of dying: I don’t want to die because I want to see how it all turns out. I have this huge, innate sense of curiosity. Yes, I’m curious about what happens after death, but I’ve already started down THIS road. I’m HERE now; I’ll worry about that other side later. I not only want to know how things work and what people are really like, but I also want to see how it all ends and what happens between now and then. Where is nanotech going? Will we ever have direct links between our brains and our computers? Will my kids or my nieces or nephews be president of the country? What will the death of the sun look like? Will my life make a difference?

Sure, this driving desire to find out things has gotten me into a lot of trouble, but it has also kept me around to be able to get into trouble again. (And incidentally, to learn lots of lessons and find out lots of answers.) To trot out yet another animal metaphor, we may all have the courage of a lion in some form, but I think that it is just as important to have the curiosity of a cat. Courage without a quest is wasted effort, and a quest without conviction goes nowhere. Besides, why do you think some cats have nine lives, anyway? So they can live long enough to get their questions answered.

  • On 2/21/2008 7:34 AM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    We've known each other for long enough that I already knew your thoughts on both the subjects of courage and suicide. Nevertheless, I always appreciate your lucidity and willingness to share yourself with the world (that takes some courage, also, I might add).

    And, I know also that you know my thoughts on both subjects. I've written and posted about each subject in the past -- first denying and then accepting my own courage and stories about my attempted suicide.

    However, despite all that, I never arrived at the place you are (vis-a-vis wanting to see how it all turns out) until relatively recently. Once I finally let go of the idea of life after death (at about the same time I let go of the idea that there is some deity out there who cares or has some control) I realized that I, too, never want to die -- and for just the exact same reason.

    I still have extraordinarily down times (everytime (which is everyday) that I think about my daughter, for example) but, for the most part, my life if wonderful and I'm so excited about it and so curious about tomorrow (and all the tomorrows thereafter) that I can't imagine not being here to see them.

    As always, thanks.

  • On 2/21/2008 9:37 AM, Blogger konagod said…

    Long ago I contemplated suicide, but contemplating is a far cry from seriously considering it or trying it. I knew I was never serious and I'm sure glad I wasn't because I wouldn't have lived to see the day when I'd be cursing IE7 or wanting to hurl a computer out the window.

    I dwell on similar issues though, constantly, and it drives me nuts. I stress about dying and then I can just as easily snap myself out of it and be comfortable knowing that it's inevitable. It helps to think not of the moment when I die, but that 100 years down the road which isn't really a long time considering I'm already 47, we'll all be dead. You, me, txrad, everyone I consider my friends, gone. And that makes it easier to deal with, for me.

    But I sure do wish I could see now what the people's lives will be like in 100 years, given what has changed in the past 100.

  • On 2/21/2008 9:38 AM, Blogger konagod said…

    Like, I wonder if my blog will still be sitting on the Blogger server.


  • On 2/21/2008 10:20 PM, Blogger Suzy said…

    When I was 19 I got dumped by my fiance and was so distraught that coming back home on the plane I prayed that the plane would crash. Within less than 5 minutes, that plane fell about 40 feet straight down and I grabbed the hand of the man next to me, who was, unbelievably, a rabbi. But now I don't think anyone is worth my life.

    People call me brave and courageous because of what I do for a living but to me it's easy. So there you go...

  • On 2/22/2008 10:30 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    Sometime in the very early 70s, I was traveling back to Houston after returning from a 3-month missile submarine patrol. I was in my Navy uniform, spending the night in a bar in the Atlanta airport drinking with several other members of the military. One of them was a Green Beret combat veteran with several tours in Vietnam (the war of choice back then) who late in the evening told me, "Man, you have GOT to have some kind of balls to spend all that time underwater! I could never get up the nerve to do that." That was my first exposure to the idea that courage is a relative thing.
    (and yes, I know some of you - Denise - have heard that story before, too)

  • On 2/23/2008 5:56 AM, Blogger Jenn in Holland said…

    I love it when you wax poetic.
    And I really like the metaphors here. Goodly lessons for one who is more timid than courageous (don't be shocked by that revelation, facades cover many things) but who shares an insatiable curiosity about just nearly everything.

  • On 2/23/2008 3:58 PM, Blogger Jen of A2eatwrite said…

    I wonder about which of us just plain don't consider suicide. I never have, either, even while having suffered from deep depression a couple of times in my life. It's just never occurred to me. It's either that curiosity factor you mention, or the fact that I'm basically a glass half full person, and that doesn't change even when I've been depressed. Life sucks, but the world doesn't, if that makes any sense?

  • On 10/04/2009 6:32 AM, Anonymous adi said…

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  • On 11/22/2010 12:57 AM, Anonymous kris said…

    I like very much what you said about courage.

    For some of us, stepping into the elevator is as terrifying as parachuting out of an airplane.

    I am all good with elevators and terrified of parachuting, if you were wondering.

    And the courage that each of us brings to the experience of our everyday challenges should be recognized. Most of all, by each of us. We need to give ourselves more credit, and spend less time comparing ourselves to others.

    As for suicide?

    I have had moments in which I wished I would just cease to exist. But not in a suicide sort of way . . . more in a "I wish I had never existed and then I would not be here in this moment" sort of way.

    Does that make sense?




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