by Aaron Smith
I smelled it, the first time.
The stink of Fear, underscored by the whites of his eyes
In the dead of night, We Men sent to take him-
His children screaming, crying. His wife struggling and trying
To comfort his family.
I felt nothing for him.
He was the enemy.
The next time,
It was mine.
The heat of the day, the expectation of harm
Hung like a heavy cloud on the valley.
The anticipation of death-
An agreement made
Soon to be paid for in blood.
My own? Maybe.
Silence shattered by explosions and gunfire
All else fades away, and Fear leaves
As training takes over.
Soon, blood has stained the thirsty ground
Not my own
Silence again brings the expectation of death
Fear returns, inevitably.
Yet, there is more.
The fuel from the blacked-out helicopters
Chokes out all other smells-
But still, I could taste it
Men making their pacts with their God
Shedding all hope of survival,
As they loaded the aircraft,
Checking weapons and ammo.
There were no words,
No handshakes or clever remarks.
The intangible brotherhood
Born of acceptance of fate
And expectation of violence.
Then step out into the blackness.
Many more such moments dance with me
In the darkness of safety-
Denied, it haunts the denier
Avoided, it pursues the avoider
We are all confronted with Fear.
Fear is not the enemy.
The enemy is the denial, the avoidance of it.
Courage has nothing to do with fearlessness,
What struggle is valorous without strife?
I’ve learned, through plastic bravado,
Through feckless strong words,
Through willful ignorance,
The strongest stance one can take-
The measure of courage-
Is embracing The Fear
Calling it friend
Welcoming its existence
Can we murder it on the altar of preparedness?
Can we replace it with mastery?
Courage takes the mastery of fear,
And the mastery of Fear takes preparedness,
And preparedness takes a humble heart
That is willing
And to embrace:
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 23, 2020.