The Courageous Coward; The Cowardly Brave (part 2 of 2)

11 11 2008

Dinner that night was at the extremely conveniently-located Luca’s, an Italian restaurant (I kid you not) right there on the beach: You walk a few steps from their doorway, and you get washed away by a wave.

OK, so you don’t get washed away. But your feet get wet.

If you read my previous post, you can understand I was so tired it was lights out for me almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Then the airconditioning shut down – and with it, everything else that ran on electricity in all of Puerto Galera. “Oh, okay, its a power outtage. No big deal.” I thought.

Now this is where my memory fails me: I can’t remember if I went back to sleep right away, or if I checked my cellphone first for any messages. The order is important, if you think about it in the light of the events I’m about to write about – but really, I can’t remember which came first.

Regardless, there was one message on my phone. It was from Tal, and it read: “You awake? Ging (That’s Nurse G) saw a stick part the curtains of our room. Make sure your windows are locked.” I had received it 30 minutes after going to bed. It was now midnight.

I am paranoid by training; I naturally expect the worst but hope for the best. Well, none of that was any help in those moments. I lay in bed for quite some time, too scared to move a muscle – to even inhale deeply – for fear of making too much of a sound and getting the peeping tom’s attention. Images of bloody knives and tabloid headlines flashed repeatedly through my mind. It also occurred to me that it was Halloween. Swimming among the rocks was nothing – nothing – compared to the fear that paralyzed me during those moments.

When I did summon the courage to get out of bed, it was mainly because I was scared of carbon dioxide buildup in the room: with no air conditioning, there wasn’t enough oxygen entering the room to balance out the carbon dioxide I was exhaling (my dad taught me this stuff – very handy). I moved as quietly as possible, very slowly (which is incredibly difficult – I felt like I couldn’t move slowly enough), trying to get to the louvered window in the bathroom to see if there was anyone lying in wait outside my door – very difficult in the inky darkness (no electricity = no lights, remember?).

All this time, my heart is going at 120 – I could have sworn that anyone lying in wait would have been able to hear it. I couldn’t reach the bathroom window (it was too high), and I had no intention of going back to bed (lying down would make too much noise), but I had to get oxygen somehow, so in a flash of inspiration, I lay down at the door and stuck my nose in the crack. Instant oxygen.

With the oxygen crisis solved (temporarily), I now started thinking about the ladies in the room across. Were they okay? Did they know the eletricity was out? Could I have slept so soundly as to have slept right through their murder? What on earth am I supposed to do?

I tried texting them, only to discover had just run out of prepaid credits. I am not making this up.

I thought about getting-up and checking on them. Then I thought about getting knifed repeatedly as soon as I unlocked my door. Was I ready to die? Well, yeah, but not like that! And I was on vacation! I’m not supposed to get murdered during my vacation!

I debated with myself back and forth for about fifteen minutes, before the weirdest thought finally got me up off the floor and knocking (very quietly) on their door: they might die from carbon dioxide poisoning. I couldn’t live with the idea of me cowering on the floor while the ladies slept their way into oblivion. Yes, I could see the next day’s headlines: Four ladies suffocate in hostel room while friend cowers in fear only a few feet away. I couldn’t stand that. Or maybe I could. I don’t remember anymore – but somehow, I finally got up, unlocked my door (it was so quiet, I could hear the springs inside the doorknob creak as I turned it), tiptoed over to where the ladies slept and knocked.

Not that it made me feel heroic or anything. In fact, I felt rather stupid when Tal answered the door without a trace of fear in her voice (they were all awake – but I was so scared, I could barely open my mouth, let alone speak, when they asked me to identify myself) and I told her to open their windows (she didn’t want to at first) to get rid of the CO2 buildup. Wow. How utterly nerdy of me. It was 1AM.

None of us really slept that night. We whiled away the hours swapping jokes, telling stories – I narrated my way through two movies (Castaway and Joe vs. the Volcano) – and laughing at how fear tended to loosen the bowels, all while dozing off as best as we could until the morning light.

The ladies finally crashed at around 5:30, while I went for a swim – I wanted to think.

The tide was low and the water was exceptionally clear; cold though, so I did a spot of swimming to stay warm, but I found myself watching as the horizon slowly lit up and thinking about everything that had transpired during the last 24 hours.

I felt different. I certainly was different. Something inside of me had changed. I had swum among (mildly) dangerous rocks in deep ocean water, and was brave when I had to be (I’d never done that before) – and yet the whole peeping tom affair (he made off with one of the ladies’ sandals – the idiot) had shown me I wasn’t as brave as I had imagined…that I still had quite a bit of growing to do.

I learned that there is a very fine line between being wetting one’s pants in fear and rolling-up one’s sleeves and placing the next moment in God’s hands. To be sure, I didn’t want to get knifed to death, and I was trembling every step of the way between my door and the ladies’ (about four steps total) – but somehow I made it. How? I don’t know. Pious platitudes and oaths seemed out of place at the time, so I’d be a fool to say that “my faith in God sustained me”…or maybe it did, and I just never felt it. I don’t know.

To be sure, the fact that I spent an hour frozen in fear leaves me ashamed and embarrassed – but I’m not sure I could have done better under the circumstances; I consider it a miracle that I chose to get up and knock on their door instead of going back to sleep. Sure, it took me an hour, but I did it…and frankly, I can’t be ashamed about that.

Maybe, in the end, true courage isn’t something some men are born with and some are born without; maybe true courage doesn’t exist in a vacuum –  maybe it must be practiced, on a daily basis, in small ways, before one can expect it to rise, mighty and awesome, in large ways. I don’t know – I’m certainly not yet there myself – but you can bet I’m on the lookout for the next opportunity, however small it may be.

I intend to challenge those rocks again someday. I need all the practice I can get.




2 responses

11 11 2008

nice adventure sir :))

12 11 2008

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”

“That is the only time a man can be brave.”

A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

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