Man's Deeper Nature: Courage.
Updated: Feb 21
''If I win – I win for all our people; if I lose – I shall lose only myself.''
— Vasil Levski
While boys are growing up, they love films, comic books and tales of heroism, stories about heroic men, superheroes who, facing fearsome enemies and overcoming great odds, come to the rescue of those in need.
Men who are dangerous, but good.
Men who serve a cause greater than themselves.
Men who are not fighting out of hatred for the enemy but out of love for justice and peace.
Men who are gallant, kind, compassionate, and gracious.
Men who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of those around them.
Men who are always faithful to their hearts, their beliefs, their honor, and the honor of those they love...
Sadly, however, with the coming of adulthood those heroes of childhood begin to look, to many of us at least, a bit out of touch with the real world, a bit outdated, a bit naive...
And so we put the comic books in the attic; we throw the old VHS tapes in the old basket full of old things; we give the plastic swords to our little nephew. We take the memory of the valiant men we once so loved — Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Zorro, King Arthur, William Wallace — and we coldly remove it from our lives.
We bury the heroes of our childhood. We lay them to rest, together with that part of us that loved them.
Alas, this part is one that we would one day need: the part that the world would one day need. That is the part of us that is strong and fierce, which hates evil and is ready to stand up for good...
Courage — all men are born with it, but only few truly realise it
* * *
The word 'courage' comes from the Latin word 'cor', which means 'heart'. I think this is very significant because, it seems to me, that to be courageous does't mean that one is 'naturally' more brave than other people: it simply means that one has his heart — his inner being — wholly present and available, fully in his possession and at his disposal. Being courageous, then, is only available to a man whose heart is whole. And a 'whole' heart means a heart that has all its original parts intact.
Even the ones that other people would not accept.
Even the ones that seem too childish, too naive, or too impractical.
Even the ones that make us dream of bravery and noble deeds.
'Too immature, too childish, too naive' — this has ever been the thing to say about those who have been courageous enough to fight against evil, those who would not conform and keep their heads down while injustice reigns...
But the heart is always childlike, and the heart always believes in good.
The heart is also not afraid of death, and this is why those who are courageous face it with such fierce abandon.
* * *
When I was growing up, I was deeply inspired by Vasil Levski — the great revolutionary of Ottoman Bulgaria: the martyr, the hero, the saint that all Bulgarians are taught to learn about and emulate.
Levski was strong, fierce, gentle, and...beautiful. He was a man of rare courage and purity of heart, and while I was still a boy, his name instilled reverence and some deep, immortal hope in my heart.
Then, I grew up; and the name of Levski, along with his pure and sacred visions of glory, remained far in the distance, and he himself, although still an iconic figure, became somewhat irrelevant to me. What good is a dead man, however pure, good or brave, in the world of the living? The world, I learned, was no place for heroism: it was a place where one had to survive, simply survive — get education, make a living, create a family, have fun, and...die.
Heroes have no place in a life that has no aspirations for heroism.
Apart from Levski, there were a few other characters in my young life: two of the most prominent were Zorro, played by Duncan Regehr in the New World Zorro TV show, and Corrado Cattani — the brave police inspector who relentlessly fought the Mafia in the Italian series La Piovra, or, The Octopus, played by Michele Placido.
Corrado Cattani was among the first men that I admired for their heroism, nobility, and fighting spirit. New emotions, unknown to me at that time, stirred in my young heart as I watched Cattani live...
But never was that stirring stronger than in the moment I watched him die.
The brave Cattani faced his death alone, his back against a wall; he left the world bravely staring evil in the face, in utter defiance of the masked cowards who had come to take his life. Sudden grief seized me; fear and anger gripped my young heart; I was shaken by tremors and convulsions from deep within. Confusion descended upon my mind and overcame me – how could the hero die? Why did evil prevail in a world where everything and everyone I knew seemed to be on the side of good?
Something shifted inside of me, something changed as I watched Catani breathe his last, leaning against that cold, cruel wall, his body riddled with the bullets of those who hated goodness and destroyed it. Silently, awkwardly, I suffered, hiding from my parents the uncomfortable emotions that raged within me.
The sudden, unexpected death of Cattani, was my first true loss. In vain my mother, who had noticed my distress, tried to comfort me by explaining to me the ways of films and acting. To me, the story and the loss was as real as the hero whose life was depicted in it. Days, weeks, even months after watching the scene of his death, I drew picture after picture of Cattani`s last moments — his head bowed sideways against the wall, his eyes closed on a face that did not change its grim, fierce countenance even in death.
Beautiful. He was just beautiful.
I had truly lost a great friend on that day. A brave, bright soul had been extinguished by men who served an evil cause. I grieved, but shed no tears.
Cattani had died like a man — I knew that, though I knew little else besides; he had died like someone who hated evil more than he feared death. No; he scorned death, looking at his murderers with fierce, blazing eyes, and an open face in which nobility, strength and passion merged in a splendid, divine way.
Do such things really happen, I wondered? Do people like that really live today?
* * *
Zorro. I became acquainted with him in the early 90`s, when the national television broadcast The New Zorro, where the main character was played by Duncan Regehr — a man whose face, just like the face of Levski and Cattani, became a symbol of everything I wanted to see on my face one day...
I was stirred beyond words by Zorro`s powerful, yet graceful presence; I was mesmerised by his gallantry and courage in the face of opposition, by his strength, speed, and the masculine gentleness with which he treated the women around him, especially the one he loved…
I was young, very young at the time and could have never been able to put all that to words – the strong pull from within, the call that aroused a deep part of me which I felt but could neither see nor explain. That strange urge swelled into a desire, as I watched those tales of heroism unfold on the screen before me; I longed to grow up so that I could do more — be more — and live, breathe, fight and die, in the name of love, and for some great cause. I did not know what exactly I was wishing for, hoping for; I only knew that the life I wanted was very different that the life I saw around me. Looking at my surroundings and then into the other world behind the thick glass of the old television, a voiceless question was being birthed within me. A question that did not come out into the light of my consciousness until decades later:
Why is the life we live so different that the life we desire?
There, in the safe nest of my childhood, I was not aware of any search for meaning, or even the feelings of inadequacy, self-hatred, and sadness, that had already began their treacherous unseen work within me. But, in a way I could neither explain nor understand, I was deeply struck by the black-clad man who embodied the beautiful, noble, and gallant warrior-spirit I so longed to possess.
Without a word or a conscious thought, I wondered: could I be a man like Zorro one day?
Could I, like Zorro, face a group of villains? Could I draw my sword and use it with speed and grace, uninhibited and free from the paralysis of fear?
Could I, like him, gaze into the eyes of the woman I loved, talk to her gently, and open the door of my feelings — not with shame but with a tender, manly smile?
Could I be like him — slender but strong, sure-footed and utterly confident in himself — so much so, that he dared step in to defend others?
As my hungry eyes took in all the scenes that played out before me, a sense of hope arose within me. This wild hope was something new, but felt somehow very old; it was a feeling unreasonable and totally impossible to fathom or explain…
Perhaps I could be such a man one day.
And with all of my heart, I wished that to be true. I longed for the day when life will offer me a chance to be like Zorro.
I did not know how the darkness and the shame, the fear, the ugliness and the rage which would one day grip my heart; I did not know how hopelessly lost I would become: I was only a boy, and I believed.
* * *
‘If people bring so much courage to this world’ — Ernest Hemingway wrote — ‘the world has to kill them to break them…’
There is much courage in the heart of every boy who comes into this world. Much courage, and much strength. But it must be drawn out, nurtured, and trained — or it will remain weak and hidden; it will be stifled, darkened, and broken.
‘The world breaks every one’ — continues the man who was himself very broken and knew it — ‘and afterward many are strong in the broken places.’
We have all been born to be courageous; and we have all been broken.
* * *
How have you learned courage and heroism? Who inspired courage in you? And was there a time when you felt that such things were not applicable today -- that bravery and chivalry are dead, and courage and heroism were words that had perhaps a different meaning in the modern world?
Look, if you will, in that forgotten basket; search the attic for those old books and tapes.
Search your soul for the lost dreams of being someone special, someone who is as strong, courageous and heroic as you've always wanted to be.
Perhaps, if you look deep enough in your soul, you will find a little boy there.
Scared, traumatised, but alive. Still alive and still dreaming, still longing to be allowed to live.
Perhaps you will find in yourself the strength to finally embrace him and take him with you, out into the light of the world, and into the journey that life is.
Courage — you are not alone.