I subscribe to "Field & Stream". Its quality has declined over the past few years, but I seem to come up with a coupon for a free or significantly reduced subscription on a regular basis, so I keep ordering it. Good reading for the seat where all men are equal.
I was flipping through the latest issue (Aug 2009) yesterday, and reached the last page. The inside back cover is an advert for The Outdoor Channel's new show "The Best Defense Survival" (hosted by/starring Michael Bane). The add slugs with, "You never know when DISASTER might strike..." and has a few ginned-up newspaper page-1s, partial headlines include "BOMB KIL", "SWINE FLU PANDEMI", and "SOUTHEAST STRUCK BY TORNADOES; 6 DEAD". Tag line: "In an unsafe world, knowledge and preparedness can be the difference between survival and the unimaginable."
Anyone who read my blog previously (over on livejournal, it's now all locked-up private) knows that I'm a proponent of preparedness and "survivalism". I don't understand the negative connotations that society places on someone who is a survivalist. Others have said it better, but essentially, by removing yourself from the load on a support/relief system, you're allowing the system to focus on those who need the help more urgently. Sure, not everyone can afford to put in backup power and multiple heat sources and so forth, but a few flats of canned food and some bottled water isn't hard or prohibitively expensive for anyone.
In any case, this entry was provoked by the tag line. Specifically, "the difference between survival and the unimaginable."
Unimaginable? If option (A) is survival, and option (B) is the opposite, then (B) really isn't that hard to figure out, is it?
I realize many people are rarely faced with their own mortality. We live our lives coddled from start to finish. Warming bassinets, 18,000-thread-count ultra-fine-sateen-weave-egyptian-combed-lambs-cotton sheets, foods flown around the world, modern medicine, etc. Cars are rolling marshmallows; a fatal car accident is far less common now than it was even twenty years ago.
Don't get me wrong - I have no objection to creature comforts. I like my bamboo-weave sheets, my six-airbag truck, buying oranges year-round, griping that the apples in May are cold-storage and kind of grainy... but I've looked at my own mortality. I *know* I can die. I have no intention of making it an easy bout for the Reaper; I'm a sick twisted sonofabitch and will play every dirty trick in the book to make sure I come out on top.
And therein lies the rub ... what is often called the "survival mindset". Not just wanting to live, but more than that, refusing to die. You're not going to learn that by watching a TV show. Oh, you might pick up some useful tips, but I wouldn't stake my life on anything I've seen Bear Grills or Survivorman do. You want to survive? Be not only willing, but able to do whatever needs to be done. I've talked with more than a few people who poo-poo my hunting, then throw another steak on the grill. These people are vegetarians who don't know it yet. Unwilling and unable to take game.
At the more intimate end of things is someone who is unwilling or unable to kill to defend their life or family. This isn't a decision to be made lightly, of course - but if you're a gun owner "for protection", it's a decision you better have made before you started filling out that 4473.
I've been reading On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (USA, Retired) lately. It's dense material. It's also very good information, with many things to prompt further musing. One of the items covered is the concept of killing another human as the "universal human phobia". It's a very real phobia: Humans are by nature a fairly gregarious species. Community is critical to our well-being. Removing some element of that community is an inherently antithetical act. Being able to overcome this phobia at a critical time may be the difference between survival and death.
I sat through a training seminar recently, taught by a law enforcement officer with long experience. The training was ostensibly on active shooters and workplace violence - as you can certainly imagine, these are hot topics right now. At some point, he asked the assembled class who would be able to kill someone if it was "you or them". In a class of perhaps fifteen, only two hands went up. Mine was one. He singled me out, asking if I was a veteran. No, I am not a veteran. So I've never killed? (At this point his questioning was rhetorical, belligerent; I just sat and shook my head at him.) "You've never killed but you say you can? The only people I know that can honestly say they can kill someone are combat vets who have." He continued, "I've carried a gun and badge for [large number of] years and I don't know that I could pull this gun and shoot someone if I had to." I chose not to comment...
... but the one thought in head was, "If you are sworn to serve and protect and are that uncertain of your ability, then you need to take off the vest and shield, hang up the gun belt, and retire." A toothless sheepdog is nothing more than a loud bark - and a bark is harmless.
Death is real, folks. Very real. Every one of us will have our final moments. Those moments will be different for every one of us. Some of us will end our days quietly, some violently. Some alone, others with loved ones... but death will find us all in the end. Do not be afraid of that fact - face it, embrace it - and live your life the best way you know how.
I'll leave you with two pieces of Scripture:
John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Psalm 144:1: "Blessed be the LORD my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight."
9 months ago