Monday, January 24, 2011

Fear and cowardice

Fast Eddie has said that if he was going to get in a bar fight and he was only allowed to bring one friend, he'd want to bring me. It's a joke, of course.

A well trained cop can tell you that some people appear very calm when they're terrified. Most people act normal, and appear terrified. I think this quality of appearing calm is a liability. Most people think you're not afraid, and when it's men, often what's going through their mind is, "Well who do you think you are? Billy Bad-ass?" Then they posture and act as if you are Billy Bad-ass. They usually don't take a shot at you because they know they're not real good, and that makes them more dangerous. They're standing there looking for a cheap shot to take, a preemptive cheap shot, and if they get the chance, they might panic and actually take it.

How do I know all about this? That should be obvious. In case it's not, allow me to share a traffic accident I was in in Oklahoma a few years back.

My log book was so far behind that bringing it up to legal was hopelessly out of the question. Some how, a white Cadillac had gotten in front of my truck, and I was pushing it down US69 sideways, at 65 mph. When I realized it was there, I took my foot off the accelerator and let everything coast to a stop. As I jumped down off the ladder (cab over), the fellow who'd been driving the car was getting out of the passenger door of his caddie. He was visibly shaking. We asked each other at the same moment if we were all right, and both answered that we were.

Imagine that. A car, semi truck collision, that happens at 65 miles per hour, and not only does nobody get hurt, but both vehicles are drivable. Simply amazing! I knew I was going to jail, and when I took my foot off the accelerator, I looked at the dog and told him I was going to jail and he was going to the pound.

When the cops and the TV cameras arrived, they asked me if I wanted to sit in the back of the squad car. That was when that cop knew he was dealing with one of the strange people who look absolutely calm when everything has gone crazy. I calmly told the cop that I was as upset as I ever get, and asked him if he'd let me sit with my dog in the truck. He said, "Ok."

To the cop and all the other people standing around that accident site, the driver of the truck appeared as if nothing had happened. The cop knew better. The cop knew I was as terrified as the guy who'd been in the car. The TV news people were probably more interested in film of the vehicles. Talking to the guy in the car was normal to them, he was visibly terrified. He'd been sitting in a car with the head lamp of a semi truck on the other side of his drivers window, riding down the highway sideways. He was shaking.

I was up in the cab of that truck in an instant. I knew at that point they weren't going to ask for that hopeless logbook, and I wasn't going to jail. It was an unforgettable moment, if ever I had one.

The truth is, I accepted that I was a coward when I was real young, probably in elementary school, but for sure before I finished junior high. Being a coward shaped every life decision I ever made. And make no mistake, children start making life decisions pretty young. Think about it. When did you make your first life decision.

Am I still a coward? Of course. Being a jock in school when I was a teenager might have given me skills, but I probably would have been even better at figure skating. As an adult, people confuse aquired skill with courage.

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