Is There Anything Worth Your Life?
Hat tip to Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm for pointing to this essay on what is essential in manhood.
...The men of all really thriving cultures know that their lives, if truly lived, are not their own. The samurai was taught to relish each day as one won from death, an unexpected boon: For the moment he swears allegiance to his lord, he must consider his life as already forfeit. Thus, he can lay that life down at a nod, whenever the sacrifice should be required.
Men who went down to the sea in ships, Viking marauders or Nantucket whalers, knew well they might never return, yet they did go; and the man on the mizzen in the midst of a storm knew that his life literally hung by a thread, and that many of his fellows in just his situation never saw land again, but without him and his obedience there could be no voyage beyond the calm of a bay. The crewmen on the Titanic held it as their duty, once the iceberg’s devastation had been reckoned, to assume that their lives were lost. Only so could they tax their muscles and their broken hearts to the last stretched fiber, to save as many other souls as they could, particularly women and children.
The lad who carried the flag in the old fields of war was unarmed and most conspicuous, but most necessary for the rallying and ordering of his comrades. He was indispensable in his choosing the honor of being the single man least likely to survive the battle. The man first up the ladder to scale the walls of a besieged city would likely also be the first man dead beneath; but if he does not go, no one goes.
The Spartans at Thermopylae knew they could not hold that pass forever against a Persian army many times their strength, but they held long enough for the Athenians to prepare for the onslaught. And you hold a pass by understanding that your life is not your life. You block the opening. The foe must break through over your dead body.
A man need not bear a saber to be a true soldier. When Louis Pasteur was searching for cures for infectious diseases, he had not our same luxury of safety. He was a devout Catholic who attracted to himself young men of high ideals and similar devotion. Those men knew that to be Pasteur’s assistant meant constant exposure to, and experimentation with, disease. Theirs was less a profession than a creed. They went forth in the wake of a plague in Egypt, to seek knowledge and cure the sick.
One gentle young man, like the holy Damien of Molokai, contracted the disease himself, and laid his body down in that alien land.
The men embraced the risk. They were dispensable; the cause was not.(emphasis added)
Read the whole thing.