Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Coward's Peace

In the long-ago days of my childhood, a group of us (consisting mostly of girls) were ritually chased all over the neighborhood by a pack of bullies (consisting mostly of boys.) Those of us who could run like the wind  experienced the intoxication of speed, the exhilarating triumph of freedom . Those of us who weren't quite fast enough would run until there was no more breath in our lungs and then we would double over puffing like a steam train, clutching the side of our bodies where the stabbing pain was fiercest. When the bullies reached us we were already a conquered people, a half-dead quarry.  All that was left to do with our sad remains was to shove us roughly, into the bushes or against the nearest fence or tree trunk and be done.

I could not count myself among the human gazelles. My obsession with confections in ample quantity resulted in my carrying more ballast than I needed. Thus, I was one of the slower ones who would inevitably be caught. I was doomed to suffer the agony of a pounding heart and exploding lungs. I went around the neighborhood dreading the prospect, yet  knowing it would eventually come. I was skittery as a jackrabbit, vulnerable as a fawn in an open meadow.  I lived the whole of  my outdoor life in abject fear of pursuit.

Then one day as I was in the frantic process of making my escape, I  suddenly decided I'd had enough. I stopped, just stopped right there in the center of the sidewalk and waited. I might as well be shoved and pulled and pummeled while I could still breathe, I reasoned. So I waited for the predators to descend on me and in that waiting, that absence of struggle, I discovered an odd sense of peace. It consisted, I suppose, of simply yielding to the inevitable and knowing that, whatever my pursuers chose to do, I would not be killed or even horribly maimed. It would hurt a little, that's all. I would survive and go home to dinner licking my wounds and hoping that dessert would consist of something more tantalizing to the taste buds than canned peaches or fruit cocktail.

I stood in a half-paralyzing, half-liberating state of acquiescence, freed of  that horribly burdensome need to keep running, and watched  as the boypack came closer. And closer.  Then -- to my utter astonishment -- they parted and flowed around me as though I were a rock in the middle of a stream. Only one of them thought to shove me and he did it so half-heartedly that I easily regained my balance before toppling into a picket fence. I stared as the mongrel pack ran on in search, presumably, of more challenging prey.

That incident in my childhood has stayed in my mind as a sort of metaphor which I feel compelled, at odd moments, to pick apart.  Are there times when it is best to cease to struggle, times when the odds are so heavily stacked against you that it is better to yield quietly than continue to fight?

I remember the sense of peace I felt when I realized I could just stop running, a coward's peace perhaps, and yet...


  1. Hah! I love it! It's interesting how we pick up on these kinds of things, these little lessons. Like you, I learned that to stop and turn around and face what I was trying to run away from. I learned that the fear of something is nearly always worse than the actual consequences.

    Coward's peace? Nah, a nice bit o' wisdom here.

  2. Thanks, Tim. I truly believe there are times when it makes no sense to keep wading upstream against the current.