There are books you can acquire, on fundamentals of for survival. The idea being, that if you know enough, you can respond effectively in any crisis. The idea being, that this is the point, like a raised sword into battle, a popular image among anyone primed to think of themselves as the hero about to happen.
In a typical lifesaving manual, you can find sections on dressing for survival; on hyperthermia and muscle cramping; heatstroke, hypothermia, frostbite.
Then comes the chapter on tending wounds: what to do before and after. How to stop the bleeding, assess the damage, clean the wound, decide on treatment, close it up.
––Burns, too: first steps, the signs in order of degree: first, second, third, a hierarchy of singed flesh. And notes on life-threatening complications, as if to reassure the reader that such matters––the complications, that is–– were secondary.
Next come the mammal bites, rabies, snakes; foreign objects in the skin; bark scorpions, fleas, chiggers, gunshot wounds; stinging nettles, poisonous plants.
Rib injuries, lacerations at the neck, collapsed lungs, flail chest, broken feet; what to do when someone collapses. For these things there are specific treatments because what led to the breaking of bones and vessels for bleeding are matters of an entirely different order, as with the fire of the gun, the long exposure to cold, the vulnerability of certain skins to certain forms of abrasions and lacerations, the moments preceding collapse.
The matter of saving a life goes beyond the moment of crisis, but here is the proverbial tough pill, too wide even for many a gallant knight’s earnest and proclamatory throat. To the dismay of many a less-attractive object of need than the damsel-in-distress or child at the edge of a hot cauldron, the crisis is always more glamorous than the slow attention it takes to watch someone and understand precisely which cries are consistently muted, and to recognize that the capacity for burning cannot be measured any better by degrees than its aftermath can be easily sorted into a neat ranking of first, second, third.
There’s a silence to watching honestly, and it’s repellent to the seekers of valor. There is nothing glamorous about slow attention, no reason to raise a white horse on its hind legs in show of strength. There is only patience, and watching, the slow action of growth below ground, and everywhere above it, the attention it takes to count the lines in a knuckle, the veins in a hand, the rhythm and meter of rising and falling ribs before they are broken.
I would die for this, the would-be hero wants to always proclaim, of the death he imagines as clean as the light gleaming from a sword before it’s tested. The living is such a mess. How uncomfortable it is, to recognize the courage of surviving the contamination and doing so consistently, in the name of nothing more glamorous than the next waiting moment.
Here is the birth of the courage that few are willing to look at directly. It hurts like looking at the sun: to see what it takes to survive––not the crisis, but the slow and patient tending to what may yet grow––and then again, maybe not. The waiting can kill you, and here’s the rub: when it does, it will sound like absolutely nothing.
Here’s what I think of the valor of the knights I was raised to revere. I think showing up in a crisis is an easy victory, fruit plucked heavy from a tree limb by a sword not so different in intention from that which would give pause to the waiting lady. It’s as easy as being celebrated with hearty open hands of congratulations, against the solid-seeming back, the only one visible when the back on which it leans is buried underground, tending to the merciless details required of everything with a fraction of a chance to live, and unable to give up for the length of time it would take to stand and shake off something that someone with the privilege of pretensions to ideals like Truth and Belief would never imagine had any weight at all.