A note from Barbara, below, describes one of my strengths as ‘courage’. Notwithstanding my difficulty in receiving compliments I got to thinking about how courage fits into my worldview.A definition of courage that I have always liked is – and I’m paraphrasing – “perservering when it would seem easier to give up”. Sometimes I fail to see courage in myself when I admit, without hesitation, having been at such low-points in my life that I entertained cashing in my chips. I believe that offing myself would hurt the people who have loved and supported me more than it would hurt me. Yet, when I really hear someone’s admiration for my courage – or that of another person – it almost seems like the admirer questions her or his own capacity to endure through struggles, thereby making my tenacity all the more admirable to them.
I personally know of one guy with AIDS who self-medicated (or withdrew medication), to the point of death, back in the days when therapies were not as promising as they are right now. (There are many anecdotes of other such cases, and for a variety of illnesses.)
Back in the late 1960s my paternal grandfather hanged himself when he was 73 after years, apparently, of largely untreated depression. This puts me at risk, in theory, of a similar end. Frankly the very idea, after getting through the last fifteen years – as well as my first thirty – seems far-fetched to me.
Isn’t it strange how my mind works, making a direct link between courage (or absence thereof) and suicide? There are many slow ways of killiing oneself, through alcohol or other drugs, eating disorders and, yes, even through sex – be it the Victorian-era syphillis or latter-day HIV/AIDS. Assuming I eventually succumb to an AIDS illness, and that likelihood is not what it used to be, it should not be said of me that I killed myself – any more than life-long smokers, dying of lung cancer, intentionally kill themselves or an alcoholic who “drank himself to death” did so on purpose.
This brings up another issue, that of living fully. It has been fifteen years since I left fulltime work and I am still twenty years away from being eligible for an old age pension. (I live on a disability allowance.) When a stranger would ask “What do you do?” I used to cringe, briefly buying into the fallacy that our employment defines us. Now when I am asked what I do I reply by stating either – or both – of the following:
–I am AIDS Editor of the web site known as AfricaFiles.org.
–I am a musician (baritone singer in a choir as well as a djembe drummer).
So whether or not, given my lot in life, I exemplify courage I will leave to others to decide. However I can personalize the sometimes over-used “Serenity Prayer” and affirm that I try to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and find the wisdom to know the difference.
Some days are better than others.