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Irons in the fire: Courage and stupidity

Published on 24 January 2019

Several years ago, my younger brother, who is 15 years my junior, was getting mouthy with me about something. I think he was home for the summer between semesters at college. He could run circles around me academically – and I’m pretty sure, as the baby of the family, he’s Mama’s favorite.

I don’t remember for sure what the issue was, but I remember it was early evening. We’d just unsaddled the horses and were pretty close to wrapping up the day. For some reason, I challenged him to an innocuous wresting match. I wasn’t a wrestler, but neither was he. I figured I could whip him, and I let him know it.

If my steel trap memory is correct, I was pretty much having my way with him – until I rolled him through a big ol’ sagebrush and onto a pile of rocks. As I rolled over, a shovel-sized rock caught my rib. I bravely fought on, but I had to withdraw from further competition in the games of the First Great Basin Sagebrush Olympiad.

I suffered through the rest of that summer with the misery of a cracked rib. If you’ve ever had a cracked or broken rib, you’re cringing as you read this. With busted-up ribs, anything you do hurts. It hurts to get on a horse. It hurts to get in the truck. It hurts to sit down. It hurts to lie down. It hurts to think about lying down. It hurts to sneeze. It hurts to laugh. It hurts to breathe. If you haven’t had the pleasure of enduring this ailment, you can trust me. It hurts to exist.

It reminded me of a dozen stunts I’d pulled as a kid with my cousin, who was just a few months younger than I. You know, stuff like trying to rope the biggest of the 15 or so calves in the pen by Grandma’s house so we could get a “bull rope” on them and ride them, or jousting with our Shetland ponies and broken pitchfork handles, or Red Ryder BB gunfights. We knew with a fairly certain assurance it would hurt, but we did it anyway.

I believe I heard somewhere the definition of courage is something like that. Knowing it may hurt but doing it anyway. It would seem I’m quite a noble and courageous feller – until you look a little deeper. There’s another word my reputation may be occasionally attached to that may have very nearly the same definition. The S word. No, not that S word; I mean this S word: stupidity.

Now, how can that be – two words on completely opposite ends of the valor scale with the same definition? That’s why life is hard.

When my youngest son announced to us he was changing his MOS (I guess that’s army speak for job) from chaplain’s assistant to Bravo 12, or combat engineer, his mother was understandably a little shaken. Combat engineers blow stuff up and clear the way so they and those following won’t encounter the enemy’s explosive blow-up stuff.

It seemed like a stupid choice. Didn’t he realize that’s a dangerous job? I wanted to dissuade him and protect him from his freedom to make his own choices. Before I got too far with my fatherly wisdom, my wife posed a question to me.

“Why,” she said, “should we expect someone else’s son to risk his life for us to do that job if we are not willing to allow our own son to make his own choice to do the same thing?”

Touché. I knew she was right. I didn’t want her to be right, but she was. So instead of being stupid and arguing with my son who, in reality, was exemplifying genuine courage, I kept my mouth shut and tried to have enough courage myself to simply support him.

Life is sometimes hard, as is doing the right thing. It’s easier to be stupid than it is to be brave. It’s a thin line, but be courageous. Stay on the right side of that line.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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