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Better to be kind than courageous

Posted: June 29, 2014 - 12:02am

Bowls of worms be pickled or plain, fried or fricasseed, given the choice, I’d jump out of an airplane before I’d gobble down a single slimy worm. The plane would have to be parked on the tarmac, of course, and there’d have to be a soft landing spot prepared so that I don’t break my legs. Still, I’d jump before I’d chew.

But I’ll never do either. My beloved believes my threshold of never is far too high. I judge my standard a pinch too low. My husband says I’m chicken, but I say it’s more complicated than that.

Refusal to devour bowls of worms or to freefall has nothing to do with courage. I’m plenty brave. I open mysterious foil packages from the back of the refrigerator. I smell kids’ clothes for cleanliness. I eat sushi.

My reasoning is simple. It’s so elementary, in fact, you’ve probably thought of it yourself, whether you’re prone to flinging your body into thin air or not. The problem with eating worms and jumping out of planes is time.

If I swan-dived from a plane, impatience would destroy the whole adventure. Unable to convince myself that I had plenty of wind resistance to take a few moments to look about and enjoy the scenery, I would reach for my parachute cord. Seeing everyone else in my party high on the adrenalin rush, I would try to wait. I would. But fear of overcompensating and waiting too long would cause my imagination to write the next day’s news headline, Party of ten parachuters perishes, no one would pull cord first.

Almost as soon as the soles of my shoes parted ways with the plane, impatience would grab my hand and make me pull the cord. Whoosh. My chute would open and lurch me upward. The whirring airplane engines overhead would suck in the fabric. One great pneumatic heave would precede their silence, then the aircraft’s nose would tilt toward the horizon where blue meets green.

I imagine the sensation of plummeting to earth to be similar to that of the maiden’s who takes a night stroll on the ship’s deck, her white gown blowing in the salty breeze. She steps gingerly across a maze of rope when someone yells, “Lower the anchor!” Rope zips wildly until cinching around her ankle and zinging overboard. The water swallows her with a gulp and closes its frothy lips.

The girl pulls at the rope to free herself. Though it’s a ridiculous gesture, she flails her arms and flutters her feet to regain the surface. Then the action stops.

Moved by the sea, her nightdress billows and quivers. Just before blackness descends, the ocean explores her nose, her mouth, and her lungs, where it rests. She gives in to the pleasure of falling.

Never mind. I take it back. My parachute predicament isn’t like that at all. Being dragged down by an anchor is different from being responsible for taking down an entire plane. The pilot, desperate to save himself and his crew, who pushed me when I wouldn’t exit on my own, would signal for me to cut myself free. As badly as I would wish to drown on air, I wouldn’t have that luxury, and I would spend my final minutes resenting the ship lass for getting off easy.

I don’t wish to entertain ugly thoughts about that unfortunate girl, so I’ll never eat a bowl of worms or jump out of a plane. There’s too much time to think between me and the ground, between the first worm and the last. It’s a simple matter of kindness, which has nothing to do with courage.

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