Kage Baker never thought of herself as brave. In fact, she regarded herself, in a frank self-examining sort of way, as pretty much a coward. I have no idea why, because she wasn’t – despite being afraid of a great many things, Kage always went ahead with what she saw as her duty.
But she seemed to think that being afraid in the first place lowered the value of carrying on -as if there were bonus points for blissful stupidity, that she lost out on by being more self-aware. She had a rather low opinion of heroes, per se; except the practical, common sense sort of gentleman like her own assassin, Smith.
The old truism that you can’t be brave if you’re never afraid is, in my opinion, quite accurate. Avoiding what frightens you is also sensible, and Kage did a lot of that – she had nothing to prove to anyone but herself, she said, and she didn’t care what she thought … what on earth is the point of deliberately leaning over heights, or walking through bad streets in the dark, or walking up to casual urban maniacs and lecturing them as they foam and shriek? The same rule applies to the smaller fears of life as well; there’s no point or profit in it. Does a noise on the front porch scare you? Do you get nervous when you contemplate bridges? Do guns make you break out in a cold sweat? For Gods’ sake, stay away from that shit! No one is helped by you chasing your phobias.
Better to develop, instead, the sort of personal rule Kage had. Identify what makes you unhappy. Arrange it into folders by scare factor – the annoyance of cold marketing calls ranks below the lurch of your heart when a shadow moves past the front window … avoid the really scary stuff as often as you can ( ’cause who needs that?) and when you absolutely cannot dodge it – deal with it as quickly and quietly as possible.
That’s it. Simple, easy, convenient to remember as a plan. That business about “grace under pressure” sounds noble and all – but Kage would raise an eyebrow and observe “What a boy thing to say. No grown woman would say that. And when you’re under real pressure, who has time to worry about grace anyway?”
“But – but – Hemingway!” her interlocutor might gasp.
“Cat lover,” she’d sniff. “Mama’s boy.”
One thing she never was afraid of was other people’s opinions.
Kage always felt, as well, that she was afraid of sensible things – things that might actually happen. Big dogs, wild animals or dangerous weather. Venomous snakes, at least in areas where you might reasonably find a snake anyway; a rattlesnake curled in one of our rose pots one December mornings left her quite unfazed, since any snake out and about in that weather had to be rubber. Which it was … Kage strode unconcernedly up and grabbed it, while I gibbered from the stairs.
Bugs freak me out – not Kage. I almost crashed the car several times when giant dragonflies ran into the windshield, or a hissing beetle crawled out from under the front seat, or I found a walking stick insect perched on my collar. I screamed a lot, too. Kage would always calmly lever the offending monstrosity onto a paper napkin (They were usually somewhat damaged by the extremity of my reaction) and pitch them out the window.
On the other hand, small animals in the house were my bailiwick. Rats, mice, gophers, skunks … anything small and furry was abhorrent to Kage, to the point of standing on furniture and yelling directions at me. Though the night we got a possum stuck under the bookcase, we both retreated to the heights and called the cops. Ended up with a gorgeous motorcycle cop on the floor of Kage’s bedroom, booted legs kicking while he fished a comatose marsupial out from under her brag shelf …
Man, even meditating on fear, I wander back into the good times we had. Life was so interesting around Kage!
Kage’s bravery was intrinsic, natural, and as doomed as the Polish cavalry facing the German tanks. She wore it like a bright scarf, or one of the big plastic 60’s rings she loved, flashing light from a glass gem on a jauntily upraised middle finger. She never once said she was frightened, during that last year of scrambling from hope to diminishing hope – she stuck it out and did what she had to. All she asked, ever, was that I not leave.
Wish I’d thought to make her promise that before it was too late. Had I done that, she might have found a way to wrestle reality into submission – she was good at that – to keep her word. I’m alone in the dark now; and I’m just not as brave as she was.