“Courage,” John O’Sullivan has pointed out, “is the patron saint of all the virtues.” Yet saints are solemn and courage is not.
The outnumbered Texans of San Jacinto charged the enemy fortifications singing a love song, “Won’t you come to my bower, to my bower?” At the critical moment of the battle of Princeton, when his men in the center gave way, Washington rode in among them and dismounted. “Parade with me, my fine fellows,” he said, “there is but a handful of the enemy . . .” His men rallied to this odd call. In less hopeful circumstances, the Spartans combed their hair to prepare for death at Thermopylae, and Kitchener’s New Army volunteers at XXXXX kicked a soccer ball across the mud flats towards the machine gun nests. Courage at its best is flippant and frivolous and giddy, giddy from having faced the fearful choice and having chosen well, frivolous from the fine folly of renouncing wealth and life and fame for the doing of duty. Courage is a heady drink. That’s not all courage is, of course. Brother Monson points out that courage is the virtue we all must draw on in every decision that Satan opposes. Speaking personally, I’m as often left exhausted as exhilirated. But I’d like to think Pat Tillman was exhilirated. I’d like to think he had high spirits under the Afghan skies.
Courage can be a heady drink. Some heroes of renunciation, like Eli Herring, have a long life to sip it. Others–Pat Tillman–have drunk it to their deaths like hemlock. They–he–haven’t had long to savor it, or to savor other things. Pat Tillman has run out of chances to savor football stardom. He’s run out of earning football wealth. He won’t know a wife or sons and daughters in this life. I don’t even know that he knew Christ. Yet I believe that sacrifices come back hundred-fold, that blessings lost in this life will be restored in the next, that, as President Monson says, “courage . . . brings the smile of God’s approval.”
Pat Tillman knows now, too, whether this is so. In a day or two, on the TV, we’ll watch his funeral., The dark-and-white suited soldiers carrying the casket, the occasional cough, the trees, the mourners. A bugler will play Taps. From the great sky a distant baritone might join in the final notes of the call:
All is well
God is nigh.
And even if gross ears don’t hear, a life itself can be a testimony. “Follow me” is the motto of both the soldier and the Christ.