First Thought Vigilance


   The VigilanceVoice

Sunday-- February 24, 2002
—Ground Zero Plus 166

The Character of Courage
Vigilance For Our First Thought
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, Feb. 24--"Such then is the character of true courage...Though it never provokes danger, (it) is always ready to meet even death in an honorable cause."
        When I first heard these words I thought they were spoken by some modern man or woman, reflecting on the disaster of the World Trade Center, or the battle against the Taliban.
        The words are 2300 years old, spoken by one of humanity's great teachers--Greek Philosopher Aristotle.
        He searched for truths about human nature--seeking ways in which we might understand who we are, and what our true values might be--especially in the mad rush to become civilized.
        Even back two millenniums ago, the same problems plagued people--fear, intimidation and complacency.   Reading Aristotle today is as though he were alive, sitting in your living room, sharing his viewpoints as though he just stepped off the F Train and strolled up Second Avenue to enjoy a cup of coffee with you at Starbucks.
        The "Golden Years" of life--what we might think today as a modernism--was a key factor in Aristotle's thinking.   He pointed to the age of 50 as the mid-point of life, where youth's enthusiasm, passion and innocence crossed over to benevolence, pessimism and restraint.
        The "Golden Mean," he suggested, was a form of balance between one's expectations and life's reality.   It was a goal, to learn to think in ways that would turn fear into courage, intimidation into conviction, and complacency into action.
         In today's struggle with Terrorism, the lesson's that Aristotle taught need some dusting off.  How do we acquire courage, conviction and take actions when we are so busy with our lives that we find it difficult to comprehend these words as part of our daily routine?
         The first step is to recognize they exist--one side of the equation rules us by accident.  Fear, Intimidation and Complacency are primal genes that seem to appear suddenly in our psyche when triggered by some physical event, or some mental (emotional) feeling.  They sweep over us like tidal waves, or stalk us like assassins of the soul, waiting to send us to our knees thinking we are "helpless," or "victims," or "unable to resist" their power.
         I saw a woman crying her heart out on the streets the other day.   She had her face buried against a building, her body wracked in sobs.  Her tears rain-dropped to the cement--blood drops of her tortured soul.
         I wanted to provide solace but I knew I wasn't responsible for her demons.   I would feed them by assuaging her.  I would be just a Band-Aid.  
         Earlier, on the subway, a man and woman sat drugged out, heads against one another, their minds numbed by some depressant that suffocated responsibility to life.  I took their picture and as I framed it in the digital camera, I wondered how life's beauty had turned on them with such violence that they dug their grave in life, and zipped it over their heads.  Two lost souls, anesthetized to life.
        Terror shrieks silently sometimes.   It is easy to address the Terror of a September 11th when the world is crushing around you.   That kind of fear is easy to ferret out, to isolate, to treat.  But the inner emotional fear of life itself is not so easy to track.   The soul covers its footsteps, hides the demons in dark corners that leap out unexpectedly.
        I learned a long time ago that I wasn't responsible for my first thought, but I was my second thought.  One's first thought--those demons which raise their ugly head from deep within the caves of fear, intimidation and complacency--can only be fought on the home front by the person who thinks them.
        The U.S. Marine Corps' new Anti-Terrorism Task Force cannot rush in and lay waste to one's thoughts.   The neighborhood of the mind cannot be patrolled by Vigilant Sentinels of Security, ambushing the mind's shadows.
        But the principle of "First Thought-Second Thought" can.   If I know my First Thought can rise out of the bowels of my human inadequacy and create in me a sweeping sense of fear, intimidation or drive me to a state of complacency, I can be responsible for my Second Thought.
        I can say to myself, "Stop Thought."   I can put up red lights in my mind, and hear the screeching of breaks on those feelings, emotions and uncontrollable angsts that could turn a day of beauty into a day of horror as I let those thoughts eat holes in my soul. 
       "You're not good enough!"  "Nobody likes you!"  "You're not loved."   "Nobody cares about you."  "You aren't lucky."  "You're not pretty enough, smart enough, worthy enough."
       Haunting First Thoughts of all your past sins of life, your character defects, your pains and struggles can surface in the blink of an eye and drive you to the wall crying, or seeking some drug to smother the pain, or drive you to a state of emotional isolation where you hide and furtively glance at the world going by.
       Terrorism of the First Thought can be as desperate a state as watching Terrorists fly airplanes into World Trade Centers, or seeing a speeding car bearing down on you.

The Parthenon = Phi = Divine Proportion= The Golden Mean

       Aristotle's Golden Mean was all about balance.
       The Greek philosopher sought to teach us to neutralize the First Thought by being responsible for the Second Thought--by turning the fear into courage, the intimidation into conviction, and replacing complacency with action.
       It meant we had the courage to blink.   To stop and realize that the moment of NOW is the key.   To stop and suck in a breath of air and thank the heavens we are alive, we are human, that we have hope, however thin the threads of it may seem.
       "Such then is the character of true courage...Though it never provokes danger, (it) is always ready to meet even death in an honorable cause."
       These ancient words apply today.   The honorable cause Aristotle spoke about is the recognition of our human worth to change from within.   If we can see the world in balance, and not dwell on the fears or past defects, we have a chance to face the present, and the future. 
       It comes down to us dealing with our Second Thought--what do we have to be hopeful for right now?   What is life to us this minute, not in reference to the past flaws, or past pains, but now, as though we were newborns?
       Terrorism of the soul, of the heart, of the being, is a far more insidious danger than anything Osama bin Laden can bring to us with bombs and bullets.
       That's why we must search through the events of September 11 to find the value within its horror.   To me, that value was to bring to life the Sentinels of Vigilance.
       These are the guardians of the First Thought, the strong warriors of the mind and soul who throw up the Shields of Vigilance and yell at us to protect ourselves from the dangers of the First Thought, by being courageous enough to stop the thought, and convert it, transfigure it into a Second Thought--a Thought of Balance.

     When we are unhappy, we seek to find something happy to neutralize the unhappiness.  When we are sad, we seek to find something we are glad for, or about.   When we feel helpless and inadequate, we go into action, perhaps smiling at someone, or picking up litter off the street, or stopping to smell a rose.  We enrich rather than destroy the life we have.
       We remember the Sentinels of Vigilance.   They rose out of the waste of September 11 to give us a reason to live, a purpose for understanding Terrorism both without and within.  Now it is our job to honor those who died for us by taking responsibility for our Second Thoughts.
                    Go To Feb. 23--Vigilance and The Marines Anti-Terrorism Brigade

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