• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Brave, But From A Distance

March 2018

To sacrifice oneself in the abstract is easy; it requires but little effort to shed imaginary blood. It’s nothing to us to risk the loss of an unreal limb, to breathe the last gasp of a dying breath—as if this inhalation were to usher the very extinction of life.

To be brave from a distance, lionhearted from afar—this is the simple achievement of the simple mind. And most of us, myself undoubtedly included, are in this and other ways quite simple indeed. We have in our possession, quite ingrained in our shared psyche, an out-sized notion of ourselves. It’s a collective mental state, an introspective castle, and it’s built upon fairy tales, heroic endeavors, and sand.

We have a proclivity to craft in our likeness a heroic and an idealized image of ourselves. It’s an image whose frame is fastened with loose hinges to be sure. Creaking and whining, forever is it in need of our attention, carpentry, and devoted construction if it’s to hold secure. Even still, we must add to it a self-aggrandizing glue. Together, between our ears and behind our eyes, where floorboard meets wall and shelter ensues, we get in effect a slightly less than sturdy, cognitive structure known to us, but maybe more appropriately, known to itself as the human mind—that mysterious mental edifice. It’s at once inscrutable and intimately known, foreign and near.

Within our skulls, fully or incompletely formed they might be, there stands at the entrance a common door. It’s an entry-way through which we daily pass but never see. It’s eager to accommodate the conquests of the hero and to set those trophies neatly and glowingly above the spacious mantle-place of one’s pride.

Dancing in the long and distorted mental mirrors of our minds (and always looking fiercely back) are the faces of heroes past. They are the men and women upon whom we model our highest ideals, the people in whose images we notice ourselves. In them, we see not ourselves as we are, but as we want to, but likely won’t be. We might on one day see the juvenescent General Alexander returning our stare. So accomplished was he before the third decade of his life that even the great statesmen and conquerors Julius Caesar and Napoleon were made in comparison to feel small. On another, we might see a second king of an equally Greek bent. Looking back at us on this day is the indefatigably crafty, patient, and—when necessary—swift and bloodthirsty Ithacan king. We speak of Odysseus. Better than all other Bronze Age figures of royalty, we adore Odysseus most. His level of intelligence, strength, and marital tenderness are traits for which we all still strive.

Looking longer still, you might greet your returning gaze with the visages of Samson or Solomon or Jesus or Moses. All heroes, doubtless, and all uncaring of your professed or absent creed. Heroes such as these are areligious and transcendent. Sects matter not, nor do incorrigibly antagonistic fundamentalist groups. They shatter the secular carapace whenever it occurs to them to strike. They infiltrate the walls behind which our yearning for hero-worship, or any other type of worship, really, lives.

The point is, regardless of whom it is you see gazing back at you with a fiery eye that stirs the soul, you and I and all of us think ourselves more heroic than we really are or can ever hope to be.

In conception, we’re courageous. Probably, though, in action, we’re pusillanimous. At least the majority of us are. I might add I say this not without a tinge of shame, for I count myself among the scared. In our fancies, we’re fighters. In our minds, we’re warriors, stolid soldiers, invaders of the beach and driven by a superhuman derring-do. But in our realities, we’re far from this heroic, Hollywood ideal. Most of us are feckless when it comes down to it. We’re pallid, soft weak, and gratuitously self-consumed. To sacrifice one’s strength for another is a rare occurrence, if ever it happens at all. Merely handing to another one’s spare change, much less a sympathetic look is burdensome enough. Sacrifice is quite beyond the pale.

The trouble is, seldom will there arise an opportunity to affirm or disprove this hunch. So, we carry on, contented and confident under the presumption that we’re braver and more generous than truly we are. We go ahead thinking, contrary to the evidence and quite at odds with our own consciousness, that we are in fact more intrepid and selfless than the average man. Should we be confronted by a criminal, surely we’d act; threatened by a predator, unhesitatingly we’d strike; assailed by an enemy, of course we’d not only parry, but thrust. Hypothetically, we wouldn’t hesitate to act, but what about actually? Are we really to deceive ourselves into thinking ourselves so bold?

We’re all guilty of imagining and inflating our own gallantry. President Trump is no different from you and I in this, and, perhaps, in only this regard. He did just that last week, during a meeting with a few dozen governors from a few dozen states. He was delivering to the group his introductory remarks, around which the topic of gun control loomed, when he assured those present that he, unlike the three officers stationed outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, would’ve rushed into the school—unarmed, mind you—and confronted the murderer head on. He was decrying the craven, idle responses of those officers sitting outside of the school, while trying to glorify and convince us of his own mettle. No matter that in the gunman’s hands, a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle screeched, or that in his heart, a sadistic and irrepressible rage carried him forth. Every systole was a round, every diastole a death. In the end, seventeen classmates laid upon the blood-soaked floor, while a nation—not yet desensitized to this kind of an attack—stood in shock. But President Trump says that he would’ve intervened.

For having said so, he was roundly derided. The media piled on, as is their wont, quickly bringing to our attention Trump’s multiple deferments during the Vietnam War. It’s the black mark many a politician bears—save only, perhaps, John McCain. They also brought up Trump’s infamous bone spurs, that crippling calcaneal ailment that stopped him in his tracks from rushing into Indochina headfirst, but not from dancing around the draft.

At first, I found myself in agreement with the opinion makers as they made this point. I suppose, in having subtly molded my thoughts, their efforts were a quiet albeit complete success. That said, it took a day or two for me to ask myself whether or not such a risible, acerbic response toward the President’s declaration of intrepidity was deserved. Upon further reflection, I came to the conclusion that probably it was not. Although he may do so more than most, he was simply expressing the heroic ideal. He, like all of us, attributes it to himself and likes to think of himself in that way. Of course, god forbid the situation repeats, he surely wouldn’t rush into a moment of absolute carnage in media res and completely unarmed. But neither would most of us, however quietly we might think that we would. Bravery, no matter how brashly employed, is always easier from a distance. It’s from this position of reflection that we can humbly ease off of President Trump and look into our own minds where we stand indomitably atop the world.

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