What is bravery?

People have told me, on occasion, that I’m brave or that I was brave at some time in my past. I guess I was when I think about it, but I know what really is brave when I see it. You can recognize it in others better than in yourself.

I am supposed to be outside painting while my wife sleeps. It’s a beautiful sunny day in Minnesota and I delayed going out to get to work “while the dew baked off” or some silly nonsense like that. In fact, I just wanted to eat some Mexican cookies from Don Pancho’s Bakery (sorry, no website I could find) and drink my coffee to wake up. While nibbling (* OK, gorging*) I flicked on the Military Channel. And I saw bravery.

In 1969 there was a horrible fire on board the U.S.S. Enterprise while she was on her way to Vietnam. 28 sailors died in the fire and explosions. I sat crying while I watched them head back to fight the fire time and again. I knew what they felt but only from a distance. I’ve been on ships and subs that had fires. You fight it or you die. It’s that simple. You can’t just “leave the building” and wait for the fire department to show up. You are the fire department. (And, for the record, I was never part of those hose teams. I was always a “rider” and we were rather specifically told not to get in the way unless nobody else was there to deal with a casualty.)

I realized watching this documentary that bravery is sometimes as simple as doing the right thing even when you’re scared to death. It’s taking the next action and the one after that even when you know you’re going to die. It’s putting others above self.

Jesus did that for us. His was the ultimate bravery as he allowed himself to be forsaken by the Father so that we might attain eternal life in Heaven. He fogives us our sins and makes that allowance for us being human.

Amazingly, the United States Navy did the same thing with the Enterprise fire – they realized that nobody was responsible, it was a failure in design of some equipment and they didn’t go after the crew. Times have changed. I’m sure that now the Navy would ruin at least two or three innocent sailors and besmirch many others in their “Zero Defects” mentality. Maybe a little bit of forgiveness is in order when bad things happen. The reality is that many of the really awful things we experience were not willful, or even caused by neglect. They simply are a culmination of things resulting in tragedy.

But, back to heroism. I salute the crew of the Enterprise. I salute the brave men and women who serve today around the world. And I thank God for his forgiveness.

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