What is Character?
You never know truly who somebody is until they are alone. They say “character is who you are when nobody is watching” and I recently witnessed this firsthand.
I once dated a man – a very enthusiastic hunter, who showed me GoPro video from his last elk hunt in North Dakota. It was about an hour before sundown, and he was up on a cliff..he spotted an elk several hundred yards away and fired at it. He slightly missed the mark, but wounded it and it ran. Since he was on a cliff, he had to walk sideways until he could get safely down.
Once down, after awhile tracking the elk, he spotted it leaned against a tree, fatally wounded but still alive. He took sight and made a perfect head shot-right thru the brain – pink mist included. The elk was clinically dead.
The problem with these beautiful animals (and pretty much any other animal with a central nervous system) is that their muscles and nerves can fire for quiet awhile after their brain is destroyed. They aren’t technically “alive” and they can’t feel the pain of the muscle twitches and leg kicks. This is the reason that hunters wait to approach a “dead” animal they just killed. They will wait, watch for movement, usually take a stick and poke it in the eye – all out of caution. The last thing you need is your prey kicking and killing you due to leftover nerve impulses.
So I’m watching this video, and he’s WAY out in the middle of nowhere in Montana, snow covering the ground, nobody around for hundreds of miles. He’s just wounded the animal, tracked it, located it and put it out of it’s suffering. Now he’s approaching with caution, and I notice a whispering in the background of the GoPro audio….”It’s okay….it will all be over soon…relax….it’s okay….”.
It is then that I realise…he is talking and whispering to this dead, but its legs still kicking animal (who had no brain left or beating heart). Comforting it. Trying to ease it’s suffering…even though it wasn’t suffering…
Now THAT is the perfect example of honour and character.
I had to leave the room because I was in tears. I waited 30 minutes and then called my Mother, to tell her what I just witnessed. Even then, I couldn’t keep my composure on the phone and the tears started flowing again.
That was a few months ago. Even as I type this now, the tears are flowing as I think back.
In my former line of work, our moral compasses can get somewhat jacked up at times. It’s not black and white, it’s shades of gray. Our training dictates to stay in this gray area, both for our protection, for plausible deniability, and for our protection as a Nation.
It struck me that some people still hold that solid belief in honour and character while nobody is watching.
We worked tirelessly, without receiving public recognition or credit for what we did for the people of the United States, to allow them to sleep safely and confidently in their beds at night. At that moment, I’d never been prouder to call him mine and proud for us to serve our friends, family, and fellow citizens and protect what I had considered a great land. Thank you, Denya, for showing me there’s still good out there worth fighting for!
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
– “Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson