Saturday, February 25, 2017

Courage and Fear: My Father on Fist Fights and Doctors



The ideal of the courageous person is one who can and will face any threat and pain in any situation with equal grace. That ideal person could go to war, find out they have cancer, or get a root canal with equal and undisturbed equanimity. Senator John Glenn and Major Richard Winters seem the closest to the ideal of hero who is brave in every circumstance.

But most real people don't work that way.

My father was a professional boxer.  Every time he stepped into the ring, he knew he was going to be hurt.  But he climbed between the ropes, raised his hands and got punched by another guy who could hit--hard.  The courage that got him in the ring led him to enlist in the Army and serve through and after World War II.

But he was afraid of doctors and hospitals.  His fear was partly inherited from his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. For a Jew to enter a Russian hospital in the 19th Century meant they had the most dire illness.

Dad lost that fear of doctors in the last decade of his life when doctors and hospitals became a regular and familiar part of his world. He had a brain tumor removed when he was 66. During the next decade he had colon cancer and related problems, then the kidney cancer that finally took his life at 77. In that last decade of his life he faced surgery and recovery again and again.

On the other hand, there are certainly people who are afraid of nearly everything. Some people are hypochondriac, agoraphobic or so swallowed by fear that they can barely function.  The characters Woody Allen plays are close to the inverse of John Glenn and Dick Winters.

To re-cast a nerd joke:  Courage is non-linear, so is fear.


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