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Flight or Fight?
We were laughing the other night about my recurring dream of the Institution where I used to work. Yesterday, witness accounts of the Virginia Tech shooting made me remember another recurring dream — from early childhood. Eerie:
I am in a room full of people. Someone comes in with a gun and starts shooting. I pretend that I'm already dead so the shooter will pass over me. I succeed.
Why would a well-protected little girl repeatedly have this dream? Was it something on television? Did a silly Western shoot-em-up spark some tactical thinking? A little schoolgirl logic? Why don't they just pretend they are already dead, so the bad guys will go away?
Or is there deeper symbolism? Fight or flight? I guess I made my choice early on.
Some gun advocates are saying that if more folks carried guns, whackos like Cho could be stopped in their tracks. Dream on. Courage doesn't come with a carry license. Once when I was at Green Valley, I was faced with the need to kill a baby rat who was trapped in a triple sink and — whack-a-mole style — kept disappearing down the drain and up into the next sink. I had a thing in my hand but simply couldn't deliver a whack. I learned what "pulling your punches" meant that morning.
On the other hand, I've often thought that I would have the grit to survive in a concentration camp or in some disaster that requires you to knock other people over on your way to safety. I've never had an issue elbowing my way onto a crowded subway and yanking a loved one along behind me. When Jim was so sick in 2002 I had dreams of picking him up and carrying him to wherever we needed to go. In a panic, you could count on me to find the exit door.
But pull a gun and shoot to kill? No. I did confront a burglar once, stood there in my kitchen, nose to nose, taking stock of his size compared to mine in case I had to grapple with him. He backed out. But I never considered that courage. I considered that paralysis.
In America we lionize the fighters. We associate courage with raising our guns and taking aim. Or with being ready with our fists. But I'd like to think that there is a kind of courage associated with flight. Wasn't America founded on people who could elbow their way onto a steamship and, with scrappy resourcefulness, steal enough food and blankets to survive the passage? And who knew how to avoid other men's wars by hightailing West out of town?
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