There was recently a gathering at my church where about a dozen families gathered to meet and share a meal. It was done in typical cafeteria-style where all the food was set on a long table and when it was time to eat, everyone lined up grab a plate and fill it up with a pile of tasty food. This typically wouldn't be anything unusual, but something happened this time that caught my eye and made me really proud of the men in my church.
I've made it a habit of mine to eat last, or as close to last as I can manage. When I was younger, I did this because I wanted to avoid the shame of being the guy with a huge plate of food while other folks had to deal with the scraps and leftovers. As I matured, however, my reason for this habit transitioned from avoiding shame to ensuring the wellbeing of the people around me. Sure, I'd love to have a bite of the strawberry cheesecake, but if all that's left is a few leaves of lettuce and the crumbs of the croutons, I'll be ok.
For this particular meal, I saw that the line was shrinking so I got up and walked to the end of the line to wait my turn. When I got there, I noticed that almost every other man present was also at the end of the line.
It made me so proud to know that I was among men that shared my values and would choose to put others before themselves. That's a group of men that I want to be associated with. Men who, without any external influence or coordination, choose to put themselves at the end of the chow line to make sure that their families are taken care of.
The phrase "in harm's way" is one that we commonly use to describe people who have a dangerous or risky job where the likelihood of them being hurt in the course of their daily work is higher than most. Our tone is typically thick with concern and/or thankfulness for the person doing the job.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those in harm's way tonight..."
In the past, I've always felt that the idea of being in "harm's way" is based on the assumption that harm is a wolf on the prowl hunting for a victim and that those in "harm's way" were the poor souls being pursued. They're just doing what they have to do and trying their best not to be harmed by that big bad wolf.
This understanding is not one that I want to keep nor that I want my sons to adopt. I don't want this fear-based approach to the world and to the things that we can't control in it to be the lens through which my family views life.
That said, we can't simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that harm doesn't exist. The wolf is real. Bad stuff happens. Rejecting the fear-based view of life doesn't mean that you simply deny that harm won't find you if you just hide from it well enough. You need to be ready for it. You've got to hut it down. You've got to step up.
I want to retrain myself and teach my sons to see think of themselves as choosing to be in harm's way. I need to view myself as being the one that chooses to stand between harm and those for whom I am responsible. It's not a burden or a chore. It's not something that I do because no one else will or there's no one better to do it. It's my choice. I choose do it because harm is real and I need to make sure that I'm ready to stop it.
Understand that I'm not telling anyone to go out and take unnecessary risks. Don't be stupid. But when the wolf is at the door, you're the one that's going to be there. If you aren't ready to be in harm's way, bad stuff is going to happen.
Be in harm's way. Be the one that stands between the wolf and those you love.