“I have decided that I will cease being a coward.”
A writer pal, Edward Readicker-Henderson, once told me that. Having witnessed my share of cowardly acts and not wanting to subject others to my cowardice, I resolved to be a better person and follow his example.
Being an un-coward is clearly a noble goal. Less clear is how to achieve this. Any behavior can be rationalized and while many people do not question their rationalizations, it is also possible to over-do it, to question what is a good decision that is based on instinct. It’s also possible to assume that an act is cowardly, when in fact, it is just sensible.
An example from ten minutes ago: A man I don’t know well called me to ask if I’d like to accompany him to a Sunday market near the Waterfront. He seemed like a decent man, about my age, nice to look at, with nothing creepy about him. We’d had a few short but convivial chats.
My response was an instant no. Why?
Because I’m on the rebound from my-ideal-situation. I’m emotionally useless at the moment—particularly to anyone in the male half of the species—and the smallest thing sends me off the edge. If he offered to pay for coffee, I’d probably break down in tears. In fact, I did after I hung up, but first I swore aloud several times (before realizing my door was open and sounds carries in old Victorians). Plus, I’m leaving town tomorrow.
Instead of enjoying today’s sunshine, I’m sitting alone in my room with my laptop. I have a microwavable dinner that I’ll eat later while I pack.
To turn him down: cowardly or sensible?
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says this:
“coward: one who shows disgraceful fear or timidity.”
“You have such cajones,” I’ve been told. “You are so brave. I would never have the guts to…” [pick one: go alone through Sudan, rent a flat in Uganda, move to Australia to be with a man I barely knew, quit my job, hang out in emergency rooms in Namibia and Uganda, renovate a condo on the Lower East Side etc etc etc.]
There is nothing brave about getting on buses and airplanes. I’m not trying to belittle the sorts of things I do. I obviously like to think of myself as brave, strong, independent; whatever sounds impressive. I sure don’t feel disgracefully afraid or timid. But what if I’m hiding behind Lara Croft-esque bravado—because god forbid I should try something I suck at, like writing a book or having a meal with someone without looking at my watch..?
I know how to not be a coward... but I don't know how to identify cowardice. I think I better get back on the road so I don't have to think about this anymore.