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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Internal Alien

Two hikers in the woods encounter a grizzly bear.  The first hiker starts putting on his running shoes.  The second hiker says, "Don't be silly, you can't outrun a grizzly bear."  The first hiker replies, "I don't have to outrun the grizzly, I only have to outrun YOU!"

I used to tell that joke moderately often.

My wife and I were riding our mountain bikes on a country road a few years back.  The ride had been scenic and uneventful when suddenly, this enormous and ferocious looking dog with red eyes, huge teeth dripping saliva, and malice emanating from head to tail came charging at us.  My wife is perfect in many ways, but being a fast bike rider is not one of them.  It was clear that there was no way she could go fast enough to get away from the dog.  She said the first thing to come to her mind was the above joke about the bear and knew that I could easily ride faster than her.

My experience was quite odd and I've never experienced anything like it before or since.  Something farther down my brain stem, something instinctive and primal, took complete control of my body.  My conscious self was suddenly along for the ride, not only having no control, but not even having any input.  I heard my voice yell, "Go! Go!" to my wife and watched myself position my bike directly between her and the dog in what was clearly a protective maneuver.  I was quite surprised and remember thinking, "I wonder what my body is going to do next?" as the dog closed in.

Fortunately, my wife under these particular circumstances is actually quite a fast bicyclist.  She accelerated her bicycle through the speed of sound nearly instantaneously and the resulting sonic boom left broken windows in three counties.  Her superhuman effort left me in the dust, but fortunately I was able to go fast enough to get out of the dog's range as well.

I don't tell the bear joke very often anymore.  That experience made it too close to home.

My wife thought I was pretty chivalrous.  I haven't bothered to mention that it wasn't "me" that was chivalrous, at least not the "me" that's writing this post or the "me" that she usually interacts with.  It was some internal alien that was chivalrous, a "Mr. Hyde"-like creature who is apparently encoded in my genes to emerge when my wife and perhaps other loved ones are in imminent danger.  We live pretty safe lives and that was the most danger in which I've ever seen any of my loved ones, so the alien has always been dormant except this one time.

One thing I read about the Aurora shooting that brought tears to my eyes was the following:
In final acts of valor, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves used their bodies to shield their girlfriends as accused madman James Holmes turned the Aurora cineplex into a shooting gallery.
Out of the 12 people who died, (at least) three did so for altruistic reasons.  Amazing!

I've always wondered if I would have the courage to do something like that.  If the emergent alien comes through, for sure.  If not, who knows?

Whether their actions were conscious or instinctual, they were heroes either way.


erp said...

Yes and it give me hope that the human race will survive.

Anonymous said...

It was particularly striking to me because the previous week I had been treated to a long series of posts about "rape culture", how white men in America just like to abuse women. I'm sure taking a bullet for your woman is part of that, somehow. Not to mention the cultural approval among American men for this kind of sacrifice. That must be part of it as well.

Hey Skipper said...

Once upon a time I was walking with a girlfriend through the English countryside, and a couple of large and angry dogs came out of some trees straight at us.

Without a thought, I stepped in front of her and told her to get out of there. Which she did, without a hint of "no that's alright, you run and I'll stop them".

This wasn't nearly as brave as it sounds -- it is an extremely rare dog that won't back down in the face of a loudly angry man, and neither was that one.

All of which makes me think of "The Impression that I Get" by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones:

Have you ever had the odds stacked up so high
You need a strength most don't possess?
Or has it ever come down to do or die
You've got to rise above the rest?

No? Well...
I never had to knock on wood
But I know someone who has
Which makes me wonder if I could
It makes me wonder if
I never had to knock on wood
And I'm glad I haven't yet
Because I'm sure it isn't good
That's the impression that I get.

I'm not a coward,
I've just never been tested
I'd like to think that if I was,
I would pass
Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go on
I might be a coward,
I'm afraid of what I might find out.

Bret said...

" is an extremely rare dog that won't back down in the face of a loudly angry man..."

I'll admit that I don't know that much about dogs, but I guess I'm surprised at that. Does that mean that all guard dogs aren't really effective other than making noise by barking?

erp said...

Bret, Cesar Milan, the Dog Whisperer, who isn't a large imposing man like our Skipper, proves that over and over on his TV show. He claims a pack-leader demeanor will overpower any, presumably not rabid, dog.

Skipper, your wife is a lucky girl.