"At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he
took shelter. Then the Lord said to him, Go outside and stand on
the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.'
"A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing
rocks before the Lord — but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake — but the Lord was
not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire
— but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there
was a tiny whispering sound.
"When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went
and stood at the entrance of the cave."
When men aspire to military service and the possibility of war
that this carries, they are perhaps responding to a call of
courage — in much the same way that Elijah sought to
respond to a call from God. That which is sought is that
which impels the search.
There may be a hint of envy motivating those who would presume to
test and find their courage. Society brandishes before us all
manner of pseudo-courage and rewards its practitioners
handsomely. The stuntman, Evel Knieval, received all sorts of
acclaim for his bone-crushing attempts to leap his motorcycle
over barrels, lined-up cars ... and even the Snake River Canyon.
Dale Earnhart achieved adulation and eventual martyrdom as
The Intimidator in stock car racing. National Football
League quarterbacks risk their bodies and six-figure incomes
every time that a burly linebacker attempts to blindside them.
And parent-mocking and tradition-breaking rock stars parade
triumphantly through the bedrooms of groupies en route
to the bank. The trouble is that admission to these professions
is denied to all but the few who can afford the preparation, or
the bad karma, or the airplane ticket to Pamplona to run
with the bulls.
However, the military will take almost anybody. For
example, they took me.
When I reported as a replacement to my first assignment in Viet
Nam, several members of the Marine Corps platoon of which I was a
member picked up on some similarities in the backgrounds of the
men therein. And, taking an informal survey, they discovered that
forty-three out of the forty-five of us came from broken homes
... that is to say, we were raised by women.
Women back then did not race stock cars, participate in contact
sports, nor run with the bulls. I, for one, presumed that I
lacked an at-hand role model who might have taught me manly
courage by example. And the recruiting slogan, The
Marine Corps builds men — body, mind, and spirit,
certainly was one motivation for me to endure the degradations of
boot camp and to expose my skinny young ass to terminal
expressions of harm's way. My patriotism – if any
– was way on the back burner while I cooked up images of
myself rescuing POWs and brushing confetti off my uniform during
the victory parade. Not to mention the possibility of receiving
the orgasmic gratitude of the girl(s) back home ....
Somehow, it just did not occur to me at the time that the mother
who raised my brother and me — after she was divorced from
a physically abusive and unfaithful husband when I was five ...
though she was temporarily paralyzed from polio when I was eight
and Craig was six ... during efforts by which she earned a
bachelor's degree Phi Kappa Phi after learning to walk
again through painful rehabilitation ... then while she earned a
master's degree despite working full-time ... when she took us
camping from Michigan to California and back three times while we
were growing up ... and via the passion through which she won
various trophies for her performances in amateur theater
— that, maybe ... just maybe, this
woman just might have had something to teach me about courage
– what we ever so brave men like to call
balls – if I had only thought to look right in
front of my filial face, instead of searching for it in some
far-off crusade alongside other men who had been similarly reared
equally lion-hearted women.
When men are in the throes of dying in combat, their last
thoughts and words often concern one woman or another —
their mother, their wife, perhaps the Blessed Virgin Mary ....
Whether a man, in what he perceives to be his last moments,
thinks of a woman because she is a source of courage or
because she is a source of tenderness for him is
irrelevant. Both courage and tenderness emanate from the same
inner source ... whether for a man or a woman, whether in
war or in peace, whether in death or in life. A soldier who
throws himself on a grenade in order to save the lives of his
buddies does so because he cares for them.
Relationships of care sustain the ability to fight. The
U.S. Army Special Forces were often formally initiated into the
communities of the Montagnard peoples with whom they served
– as advisors and advisees in Viet Nam – and, to this
day, Special Forces veterans work to lessen the persecution of
these mountain people and to relocate them when feasible
to the United States. The term blood brothers has both
literal and figurative meanings.
Trite though it may seem ... love indeed makes the world go
'round. Bravery and respect alike are but attributes of it. This
truth is too important to attribute, as when gilding the
lily. The real thing does not require bravado. Bravery and
bravado are two very different things ... having a heart
on is not the same thing as having a hard-on. That
is not to say that bravery and bravado are opposites. Lust is
love having an identity crisis.
Courage can, in some ways, be equated with confidence. And the
word confidence is a combination of the Latin
words: with and faith. To proceed confidently
is to proceed with faith. One therefore trusts, to some degree,
oneself, and others, and the Presence in the universe. Love is
not so much a matter of making something, or of perfecting a
technique, as it is a matter of letting go of barriers to
trust. To Be All You Can Be is primarily a
matter of trusting yourself to be you, to be all you
— warts, wrinkles, and all. It is less important to be a
Ranger or a recon Marine than it is to not be a
stranger to yourself.
And the self that's your essence and existence is who you
are, thanks be to God – as well as to Fort Benning and
Camp Pendleton – though, one can have it both ways. Just
because there's ability, there's no skill without training and
practice; so enlightenment must never downplay the
importance of excellence.
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, has said:
"Earnestly desire the best
gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way."
And thereafter follows Chapter 13 and its enthronement of love.
A present-day man of incredible courage is the Dalai Lama of
Tibet. From exile, he leads and inspires his countrymen, who have
been held hostage by the rapacious and materialistic Chinese
overlords for over a half century. And upon what faith does this
holy man / wholly man draw in order to not give in to
"My religion is very simple,"
says the Dalai Lama. "My religion is kindness."
An act of courage is a poetic action. It transcends
practicality and efficiency and self-sacrifice. The bravado of
today's suicide bombers is not bravery, because there is nothing
poetic about destruction for the sake of destruction. The
poetic action heartens rather than disheartens.
Poetry is a kind of word-play. Courage is a kind of
action-play. Ironically, the heart of a courageous man
encompasses within it the heart of a child.
F. Scott Fitzgerald has said, "Show me a hero and I will
write you a tragedy." What Fitzgerald has overlooked,
however, is that perhaps the greatest impediment to heroism's
opposite – cowardice – is that cowardice is not fun
... that is to say, the opposite of courage is not the opposite
Native Americans of the plains, in their wars of yesteryear, made
a kind of game out of close combat. The World Book
Encyclopedia relates of them that:
"... it was considered braver to touch a live enemy and get away
than to kill the enemy. This act was called counting
coup. Warriors carried a coup stick
into battle and tried to touch an enemy with it .... Warriors who
counted coup wore eagle feathers as a sign of
Combat certainly isn't fun per se, but there is a
dance with death quality to it. Granted, the dance
eventually resembles the punitive marathon dances of the
Depression Era, when the competing participants no longer
remember why they dance, but just keep performing the steps,
while desperately leaning against one another, with a grim
There is a misconception that martial courage depends upon a lack
of sensitivity. The movie, Braveheart, rightly refers to
If a combatant, or former combatant, is not frequently observed
to be manifesting tears, it is not necessarily because he is
insensitive or indifferent — playing the role of the
stereotypic stoic. There is a kind of contemplative suffering
— just as there is a kind of contemplative joy.
Contemplation in religion is meditation without words. The
contemplative does not analyze that which he or she contemplates;
he or she identifies with that which is being contemplated. Or,
as in the Zen practices of the Sumo wrestlers, who are the
spiritual heirs of the Samurai warriors ... one simply learns
to BE. C-rations are fine, if that's all
you have, but a tea ceremony celebrates the dance — by
keeping time and step with meaning.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a survivor of polio like my
now-deceased mother, said,
"Human kindness has never
weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A
nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."
No one should have to fear being thought a sissy. As with
gay-bashers and other macho bullies, the ones pointing the
are those doubting and loathing their own manhood — it's a
disease that rejects the only medicine that will cure it.
Oz didn't give anything to the Lion that he didn't already have
.... Fear is the flip side of courage in a package deal —
if no yin, then no yang. That which is
sought is that which impels the search.
Semper Fidelis — thanks, Mom. Om mani padme
hum — the jewel is in the lotus, n'est ce
"Poetry is more necessary to a people than industry itself, for
while industry gives men the means of subsistence, poetry gives
them the desire and courage for living."
by Jose Marti
contributed by B. Keith Cossey