Monday, March 26, 2007

The Courage Game

TR is another one of my heroes. By force of will he created out of the sickly body of a boy, a strong and vigorous and courageous man. How fine and admirable. How noble. He had been gifted with a brilliant intellect -- he read, and remembered, one to three books each night -- but his character was his own workmanship. I love him.

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."

Yes, he was a romantic. How beautiful, to have such a man for president. It is because there is a place for such men in the world that it is worth living in.

All men might have courage. But only those who have been tested actually do have it. In finding it, we become masters of our souls, and we come to understand that the only voice that matters is the one whose counsel has been tested by fire. As Andrew Jackson said, "One man with courage makes a majority."

You know that homily of Charles M. Province. It goes something like this: It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press. It is not the poet who gave us freedom of speech -- not the priest who gave freedom of religion -- not the lawyer who gave the right to a fair trial. It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.

The standard is high. Risk of life. Loss of your job, loss of your standing, loss of your freedom -- risking these takes courage. But we wouldn't have these things, were it not for those who stand in the narrow place and make it unpassable. The armor of the hero covers only his front, because the enemy will not see his back.

Roosevelt played a game with his children -- I'm forgetting what he called it ... I call it the courage game: pick a landmark in the distance, and go in a straight line until you reach it. No going around obstacles. Through, over, under -- but no around. That's what courage is. It turns walls into doors. Which must hurt. But sometimes a wall needs to have a door.

A metaphor, of course.

This is what it's like. Under extreme sustained stress, the human male is effectively castrated. Say, for example, under prisoner of war conditions, or threat of torture, testosterone levels fall to virtual zero, and remain there.

I'm not one to speak of courage, anymore. I will not be going into details, save to say that I have risked job and property and status and freedom, and life. It's quite an interesting story. But it's private. I have learned to armor my back.

Today I was thinking about how children get ruined. Something gets broken inside of them, and they are never really whole again. Maybe the break is small or unimportant. Maybe it's catastrophic. But gluing a cup together again is never a really satisfactory fix. Even at its best, where there are no leaks, the cracks show.

I'll be competing this Saturday, in one of my sport's three biggest competitions in the world. That's just nerves. No big deal. Nothing important at stake. But it's the first real competition I'll be involved in, and I'm a careful guy. So I'm fighting in my own age category. The oldest -- 46 and over. Some of the fellas seemed a little surprised that I should do this. They suppose I should fight younger, given my level of apparent fitness. There might have been a little bit of teasing, at my expense. But I'm fighting above my weight category -- I'm a middle weight rolling as a light heavy weight. Alas, that buys no love for The Jackhammer. Consider this, though: if I beat up on the youngsters, they'd call me The Abortionist. Not a mat name I crave.

My reasoning is that doing this competition is to sound the situation out. I've never even watched a competition, let along been in one. I expect these fighters to be tough and skilled. I'm only tough when I'm desperate. I'm not in phenomenal shape -- just lean and strong. I expect my young companions look at me and see more than is really there. I know that when I roll with strangers, it's always tough. So I'm testing the waters. In August there's another big competition. Depending on how I do this time, I might fight younger there.

I do want a challenge. I don't want to just dominate -- beat up on a bunch of flabby old men. As if flabby old men would consider fighting in a world-class competition. Hmm. Yes, it is true, I do want to dominate, but I want a challenge too. I expect I'll get one. Maybe I'm wrong though. Maybe I don't realize how crapulent and debauched my cohort is. My highschool didn't have a reunion -- if I'd gone and seen a Roman Senate full of bald and corpulent apoplectic dotards, I might have insisted on fighting younger guys. Am I wrong to judge my generation by my own standards? How decrepit am I supposed to be? But beer bellies are a choice. I can't be wrong in this. It is clear however that my youthful peers seem to think I don't fit neatly into the late-forties niche. We shall see.

But here's the secret behind everything I've been saying: I'm broken. I'm ruined. I'm out of courage, and my emotional testosterone is at zero. Doing jiu jitsu has been a way of shoring up my soul, maybe binding it together, maybe mending together the shards. This is a next step. It's no small thing for me to do. A medium-sized step. A movement away from being just a sloppy poet, back to being a warrior. A turning from the rout to face again the enemy, and in so doing reclaim a small piece of freedom for my soul.

A metaphor of course, but thought itself is just a sort of symbolism.

I was given a good body, and I have used it well. I was given intelligence, and I have used that well. But something has always been broken inside me, and I'm trying to heal it in the only way that I have faith might work. Let's call it the courage game. A making of doors where there have always been walls. Because it takes courage to escape from concentration camps. It takes courage to recognize that the torturer is ... well, nowadays it's me. And sometimes heroic things have to be done not because of the presence of testosterone, but because of its absence.

Act as if you have faith, and it will be given to you. Act as if you have courage, and you will have it. Believe that there are heroes, and become one. Maybe it's a way of loving yourself. Or should I be courageous, and say it honestly: Maybe it's a way of loving myself. There must be a way to do that. There must be a way to repair what has been ruined. There must be a way to heal the harm insanity has done. So I tell myself. I tell myself the world is worth living in.


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