Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Invisible Courage

Students in passing periods at the University of Arizona clog the hallways of the Memorial Union. Walkers, mainly students in the blossom of beauty and youth, move like blood cells through crowded veins. Most of them carry an air of confidence, are simmering in age-appropriate narcissistic self-assurance, and they dress to the nines, with looks right out of fashion magazines.

Yesterday I came face-to-face with a young man who did not fit the mold. His features were exceedingly  deformed, the cranial symmetry distorted in a shocking misplacement of of eye sockets, cheek, nose off to the side, and mouth that turned down on the left side. The condition looked genetic, not trauma caused.

And he was not dressed up in the hottest hipster gear.

I had to collect myself so I didn't stare, or worse, wrinkle my face in fright.

This young man passed through the flowing river of students with the same air of purpose and direction as the rest. I had to wonder how he had acquired such courage.

And the amount of courage it must take to get up day after day and enter the beauty parade of a place like the UA, must be up there with the great heroes of history. And, yet, he likely received little, in any fanfare or recognition for this heroism beyond a devoted family or long-term friends.

If he were a veteran, returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, he likely would have been lauded for his courage. Fighting a country's wars, or doing the bidding of the ruling class usually wins a pat on the back and some public acclaim.

But recognition of heroism is not evenly or fairly distributed. A personal battle to get up and face a world that never stops staring at you does not necessarily register on the radar of Good Morning America.

If there were a way to measure courage, to measure the degree to which a person has to marshal the will to move in spite of inertia to stay out of aversion, would we allocate recognition where recognition was deserved?

Maybe, but that is not the way it is right now. Heroic acts that strengthen the existing structures of power are the ones that get the press. Playing to the whims and desires of the rich wins comfort and reward. Yes, there are the breast cancer survivor stories and wild animal attack narratives that get some exposure, but, mainly, acts of courage that fall outside maintaining the status quo are ignored by mainstream media.

The woman who stands against police in riot gear because she believes in peace, or wants a fair wage at a sweat shop, is forgotten, even though she stands in nonviolent resistance as a cop lays into her with a billy club or tear gas.

Do we see the heroism in that?

I wonder where that young man is today, what he thinks about as he gets up, gets dressed, and prepares to head out into a world that never stops staring or turning away in involuntary reflex at surface ugliness. Does he see the nobility of his act beneath the shallow responses?

His is a courage off the charts for me. That is worth remembering, worth pointing out.

The hero of our time may be invisible to all but the most observant. She is there, right in front of us, meeting demons we can only imagine. He is beholden to some principle worth more than vanity, more than ephemeral, irresistible beauty.

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