Stand for Something

Whilst I pride myself on my comic understatement, it would push the bounds of minimization to say that I was unlike my peers in high school. The contrast was on many levels: intellectual, religious, socioeconomic, phenotypic, et cetera. During history class we were discussing the impressment of sailors that precipitated the War of 1812. The teacher inquired of the class what the fledgling country ought to have done. He asked me, the lone hawk in the class, why I favored fighting back. I said, “Better to die an honorable death than to live a dishonorable life.” (It made such an impression on him that after class he asked me to promise to come see him in ten years, a promise I have sadly not fulfilled.) I would like to think that I saw the symmetry with life/death and honor/dishonor, but most likely I was unknowingly paraphrasing Honesta mors turpi vita potior (An honorable death is better than a dishonorable life) from Tacitus.

It is easy to talk about doing the right thing when just talking. But one’s mettle is truly tested when there is personal loss at stake. There are some tasks, like defending children from predators, which one must shoulder, even when one has no idea what to do, even when there is absolutely no chance of success. Excuses like “What are we supposed to do?” are intolerable. If nothing else, stand up and take the hit. Better to be on the ground from having stood up and been knocked down than from cowering.

Ohana has always been important to me. I lost my father too early to untangle how much of that comes from that loss and how much was already a part of me. Despite, or perhaps because of, feeling little of it from my family of origin, I kept chasing the family that I wanted. It could be argued that I had little to lose given the tragic events of my childhood, but I prized the pittance I had. Yet I risked and lost that because I refused to be yet another abettor.

The full price remains to be calculated. Both victims and perpetrators still consider me a thoughtless agitator who should have left well enough alone. While I differentiated my ohana from my family of origin, I sacrificed a cherished pipe dream. But I retain my honor.


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