Steven Lake asks himself the ultimate knight-in-shining armor question, and discovers a few surprises.
Heavy question. Put me on the spot or what? But in all seriousness, yes I would. Is this a smart thing? I’m not sure.
Being willing to die for someone is usually reserved for the movies or when we read a story on Facebook or in the papers about how someone rushed to the rescue and gave their life to save another.
Often the saved person is a child (which seems easier to understand) but not always.
When I play this game in my head, imagining giving up my life for another, dying for a child is the easiest to imagine, especially if it is mine or one in my care.
Deliberately sacrificing myself for an unknown person is more difficult to envision. Even though this does happen, the circumstances often indicate that the rescuer is acting without thought. There was only seconds to act and they acted without weighing the risks.
I was a lifeguard as a teenager and young adult. We were taught to think before acting. Better one person die than both of us. A little crude perhaps, but makes sense when you think about it.
We were told many stories of how someone jumped into the water without thinking and both bodies were brought to the surface — clinging to each other.
I can attest to the strength of a drowning person, and it was a little boy weighing all of 60 pounds. It is truly scary what happens when someone panics, is in fear of their life, and the adrenaline kicks in.
As I approached this child I made a gross assumption. I thought because he was so small, I could just approach him and let him grab onto me. Big mistake, he nearly ripped my head off.
Movies and TV dramas are replete with (usually men) throwing themselves on the grenade or bomb to save their fellow man (and women). I seem to have some vague memory of a woman character acting this way, but it is rare.
Yet, in real life it happens every day. A mother in a war torn country throws herself in front of her child trying to stop some sort of savagery or death.
Scientists tell us we do this instinctively, as it is about survival of the species. Philosophers tell us it is because we are altruistic. Theologians tell us it is about love.
Or, to paraphrase from the bible, Man hath no greater love than he that lay down his life for his friends.
Would you give your life for your wife or significant other?
It’s OK to say no. There are many potential factors involved. How long have you know each other, how committed are you, how much do you love him or her, how old are you, and what’s your health like?
What’s your health like? Sure, if I am sick with an incurable disease it might be easy to give up my life. In truth, no matter what we say, we will never know until the moment arrives.
For most of us, we will never be put to the task. But still, for some reason, I like to think that I could and would sacrifice myself, and willingly, for my beloved.
Is that just old world macho thinking? Can this trope be as valid today as it has always been?
Self-sacrifice is a concept that permeated my upbringing. I don’t think it was exclusive to men, just doing it for different purposes and outcomes. I think it had more to do with class. The lower the class the more sacrifice needed.
The ultimate self-sacrifice also appeals to the ego. It smacks of the knight in shining armor syndrome. I am coming to the rescue and if I die, I will certainly be rewarded in the afterlife.
This is the stuff of legends and heroes. Who are the real world heroes of today? Firefighters come to mind. They rush headlong into the flames. Sure, they’re paid to do it, but still — it’s impressive.
If there was a hierarchy of love it might look like this: 1) child, 2) spouse (if long-term and happy), 3) parents (depending on your relationship with them), 4) siblings and 5) a best friend(s), who may be higher on the scale.
Starting from the bottom, as much as I love my best friends, I would not give my life for them — they are older than me and I rather cherish what few years I have left (sorry guys).
My brother, wow, I would actually consider it. I didn’t know that until just now. I am having to pause as I write this, I knew I loved him but did not realize the depth of it.
My parents, love them. They have become sweet in their old age, but better them before me as they have lived long lives in good health.
I would give up my life for almost any child. The younger, the more willing I am. There is a one year old living across the hall from us. I am called his uncle, have held him in my arms, and been his babysitter.
I would gladly give my life for him. I think, in part because he has so many more years to live. His whole life is ahead and mine is coming to a close. It seems an eminently fair exchange. It makes me smile just thinking about it.
Now back to the opening question, my wife? Why do I hesitate? We have been together for eighteen years, we have a good relationship, I am happy with her, I love her.
That is why I would, because I love her. There is no other reason. It is not reasonable. It is only because I love her. On the scales of rationality we are equal: the same age, the same overall health, the same life expectancy (not accounting for gender), both contributing members to society and so on.
I would give my life for hers simply because I love her. Or, as Rumi said,
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.
In this way if I were to give up my life for my wife, I know I would live on in her. A pleasing thought.
Also by Steven Lake
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