Maybe I don't understand what courage is anymore. I sat in a movie theater recently, listening to people of all ages applaud and cheer when the key character was drinking excessively and stealing other people's money. I don't think either one of those things is worthy of cheering. Am I wrong? Did I get taken by the Rocky montages of the 80s, believing that courage comes from facing fear?
In my twenties I was as guilty as the next girl when it came to a few drunken evenings. In my senior year of high school, I finally bought into the concept that going out, pouring liquid down your throat and urinating in the middle of the road with your wasted friends was amazingly cool. But I didn't stay there long, because I realized that anybody could get drunk and act like an idiot, but not just anyone could be courageous.
I understand that drinking and popping pills happens every day as we deal with the pressures of life, but I am a little worried that we've begun to worship this excess as an act of strength. Passing out because you're drunk might make others around you laugh, but I'm not sure that it deserves admiration.
Do you get some great stories from those boozy moments? Of course you do. I remember a night in my teen years spent wandering down the street of my neighborhood at 2:00 a.m. because the Schlitz Malt Liquor coursing through my veins decided I needed to go jogging.
I fell into a ditch, found a hard hat, and proceeded to wear it. I got home two hours later with bruises after climbing street signs so I could read them in the fog that I'm pretty sure was more in my brain than in the environment. I tried to find my keys and dumped the contents of my purse in the yard. The next morning I awoke to a purse filled with sticks and grass.
Yes, that's a funny story. But was I a hero in this escapade? No. Was I brave? No. I was an idiot in a hard hat carrying a purse full of dirt. So while I don't mind you laughing at me, I really hope you don't cheer for me.
I guess I want to cheer for people who display courage in daily life.
My mother lives in a retirement village, and one of her friends needs surgery on both knees. She is in extreme pain all day every day, but she wakes up each morning and walks to the cafeteria so she can have lunch with her friends. Every step hurts, and it takes her a long time to go just a few feet. But she refuses to give up. I find courage in every step. Hoorah for her.
I want to cheer for the person who was jogging in Boston on a beautiful day and woke up in a hospital without her legs, but rather than sinking into drug use simply replaced her legs with artificial limbs and runs anyway.
I cheer for the young girl who has been dumped by her boyfriend and feels like someone has stomped on her heart but goes out with her friends anyway, then goes home and cries herself to sleep, and gets out of bed the next morning to start again.
She is facing her life.
Escapism, on the other hand, is the strong part of us taking the day or night off; it is the small tantrum that is thrown because we don't want to face the truth.
So when the guy on the movie screen gets up before dawn, drinks raw eggs, runs through Philadelphia with holes in his shoes and beats meat to get stronger not just for the heck of it, we should cheer. Why? Because he's facing his world sober and a little terrified.
But when the guy from "The Wolf of Wall Street" reaches under his couch and pulls out a bag of cocaine that has already ruined his life and the lives of many who invested with him, I don't think he deserves cheers and applause.
We're all a mixed blessing. Within each of us is housed the potential for both heroic and villainous behavior. When we mock others and say cruel things and rely on drugs to distort our difficult truth, we are simply small, frightened people standing behind a curtain pulling levers, trying to feel bigger than we are.
I wish that in those small moments we could realize that within each of us there is a Rocky and a Rudy and the spirit of a brilliant man who endured twelve years of slavery.
So let's think about what and who we cheer, and let's realize that courage is in every one of us but rarely lives in a plastic bag filled with powder.
I'm not judging. And I'm not saying we should never indulge in escapism.
All I'm saying is that we shouldn't cheer for it.
It's not the best part of us.
"The Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Judi Dench, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
Denzel Washington, "Flight"
Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"
John Goodman, "Flight"
Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"
Ben Lewin, "The Sessions"
Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins, "Hitchcock"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Searching for Sugar Man"
Dustin Hoffman, Director, "Quartet"
"Robot & Frank"
Follow Donna Highfill on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DameDonna