In Memoriamby Brie Stimson September 26, 2018
In honor of Sen. John McCain’s life – he lost his battle with brain cancer at the end of August – we are reprinting my column “Courage” from last November.
In the news we often see the worst of mankind. Greed, hate, lust and ignorance all have recurring roles on the evening newscast. But I would argue there has also been a lot of courage. Courage isn’t as loud as hate, and it’s not as exciting as lust. It’s not as dramatic as greed, and it may not always be as newsworthy as ignorance. But sometimes it’s the one thing that can help a hurting world.
I’ve seen no end of courage in the news lately. From the mass shooting in Las Vegas to the wildfires in Northern California, there were people who ran toward the danger so that others might escape it.
Sometimes when I get down on my own life and wallow the petty self-pity of a bad day or a missed opportunity, a sweater that got shrunk in the wash or being overcharged for takeout, it does me good to watch these scenes on the news.
No one can ever truly know if they will have courage or if they will be petrified with fear in a crisis, but when I see people who risk their own lives to save others, their heroism and selflessness are almost unimaginable to me. It’s a mitzvah that these people exist among us.
In the mass shooting near the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Las Vegas Strip that killed 58 innocent people and injured hundreds more, there was no shortage of stories of courage. Police and first responders ran into an unknown situation with an unknown threat to mitigate the carnage, and there were also civilians, concertgoers, who put themselves in danger to help save other people they didn’t even know. I heard about a man who went to the Route 91 Festival with his wife, and when the gunfire started he used himself as a human shield to save her life at the expense of his own. During Hurricane Harvey in Texas, there were countless stories of regular people taking out boats to rescue their neighbors and strangers. A man in Dominica lost his life futilely trying to save two young children caught in flooding caused by Hurricane Maria. Their parents survived, but the man and the children were swept downstream.
Courage is sometimes as dramatic as these stories, like the last scene of an epic movie, but it can also been subtler. Courage can also be a congressman who receives money from the NRA but speaks up about gun control anyway. It can be a climate change denier rethinking his beliefs after his house is destroyed in a flood. It can be a solider who returns home from war and gets help for his PTSD instead of pretending everything is fine. It can be a woman who confesses she was sexually assaulted when it might be less painful to stay silent.
Opportunities for courage are all around us. Sometimes they’re small and sometimes they involve the ultimate sacrifice, but there is an opportunity everyday to better yourself or to help someone around you.
I recently watched the interview that “60 Minutes” on CBS did with Senator John McCain. It was moving to hear the way he spoke about his own impending mortality.
“You just have to understand that it’s not that you’re leaving,” McCain told reporter Leslie Stahl. “It’s that you … stayed. I celebrate what a guy who stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy has been able to do. I am so grateful. I –every night when I go to sleep, I am just filled with gratitude.”
McCain was diagnosed last summer with a glioblastoma, which has a very low rate of survival.
Indeed, McCain has been through his fair share of strife, starting from when he was a POW in Vietnam. He turned down early release from the POW camp where he was tortured because he said he didn’t think it was the honorable thing to do as the son of an admiral.
And even today the “maverick” is still going his own way. He recently cast the deciding vote against repealing Obamacare, further complicating his relationship with critic President Trump.
Senator McCain is not a perfect man, as his critics will say. He has made mistakes – so have all the people who went into burning buildings or pulled a person from a house destroyed by an earthquake.
We are all human and capable of great selfishness – and great heroism –seeing the flaws in a hero makes their noble act that much more inspiring.
I believe if a person like John McCain can face his own mortality with calmness and strength than the rest of us can find at least smaller ways to stand up for what is right.