It was an ordinary accident. Two boys driving to high school had topped a hill too fast, and wedged their small pickup under a stopped truck. Hundred-foot skid marks explained it all.
Both boys were pinned in the wreckage… legs folded in odd directions. The driver was convulsing thick blood. They struggled weakly, and while distant sirens found their way, the truck driver
readied a fire extinguisher and I held them still.
A woman was on the rescue team and I was thankful, yet vaguely uncomfortable with her stern competence. The men could remember when it was their time… the supreme invincibility… the pounding
rush… the looks of startled astonishment. With a certain resigned acceptance, they carried off two of their own.
The woman was an outsider at this humbling ritual; an intrusion of sanity, like a nun at a prizefight. I wondered if she understood the ancient instructions these boys were following when they
raced along that narrow hilly road.
It was evening before I learned any more. Among the injuries were collapsed lungs, a fractured skull, and several broken legs, but both boys would survive. Horror turned to relief, then
Mother Nature played a particularly cruel trick on the male of our species. We are unable to understand danger at adolescence, and are compelled to challenge it. These invincible young warrior
instincts come from our tribal past and the combination creates this deadly rite of passage. Those of us who survived, boast of the things we did.
These two will now have their stories, but first they will be hauled out to the skid marks, for the lectures and the hugs and the inevitable loss of their keys... a measure that probably isn't
necessary. They were learning pretty good there for the last hundred feet. Their knees will never forget, and the memory of a dry scream will remain wedged in their throats, forever.
When the fortunate survivors finally hobble to school, their teachers will point them out while sternly dispensing the usual warnings. A demoralizing task, theirs, explaining danger to an audience,
half of whom are invincible. The drone of rules and deadly statistics will quickly bore those at the rear; the arrogantly fidgeting nobility, whose feathered spirits are in war paint, leaping over
long-extinct bonfires. Words of caution grow pale in this part of the room, cowed by lusty taunts from the beginnings of time.
The concept of danger cannot be communicated to young males, but the reason it can’t, can. They were needed this way.
We evolved as a clan or tribal species. As fire and tools were mastered, our problems with food and predators were largely overcome. As populations approached the limits of the hunting, scavenging
and gathering resources, conflicts arose. Warriors became necessary; a duty that involved dodging spears. Speed and agility were favored over size and strength.
Older members with hungry families had compelling genetic reasons to lead in the risky confrontations, but they were slow, and were needed for their knowledge and experience. Young females were
swift and agile, but they were necessary for reproduction. Young males were the obvious front rank candidates, however, in nature this is backwards. The young don’t risk their lives for the old. It
is not a natural response. Getting these warriors out front presented a problem.
Famous for her tricks, Mother Nature found a way. She gave young males a love for thrills and glory, and the belief that they were invincible. Then, for good measure, she gave everyone a love for
It was a costly solution but it worked. Groups armed with these willing weapons prevailed. For uncounted eons we males have been bred to be thrillingly, usefully, and expendably stupid at
adolescence. Like temporary soldier ants, we weren't designed to survive; we were designed so the rest would.
The traits remain but the world has changed. The grisly result pours into emergency rooms daily, not all of it extracted from mangled vehicles. Warrior aftermath of a purer kind is collected in the
frayed areas of American cities. Here, teams of idle boys engage in a rivalry that involves shooting at each other. Different game. Same thrills. Same glory. Same sirens. Same angry words scrawled
on the toe tags: "terminal
Ages of tribal “push and shove” have left the intelligent species with a fearsome "we/they" mentality, and sons that are dumber than dirt.
For most of human history, warriors were revered. Young men knew their purpose, and strutted in noble excitement. In today’s placid world, they languish in noble boredom. The tedium can reach
critical mass and when a chance for thrills and glory arises, young men heed the ancient call. All too often, sirens are summoned, and if Luck turns away, pleading eyes and trembling fingers will
be gently pried loose, and sheets will be pulled over.
The spears are gone. The tricks live on. Boys in the U.S. between the ages of fourteen and twenty-six die of injuries at a rate three and a half times that of the more sensible sex*. We watch the
useless carnage in helpless horror, and somewhere deep inside, murmuring spirits cry out that a piece of the best in us is slipping away.
It was a very ordinary accident, but it has been disturbingly difficult to forget the two boys at the end of those skid marks; yesterday's heroes fading back into the mists. Disturbing because the
last few generations of us have known about our ancestry, yet we have refused to accept our heritage, and explain its significance to our children.
Anthropologists try. They lead us to their excavations and point eagerly at our origins. We glance impatiently at some crumbling bones and primitive weapons, then we look back at our shiny things,
and walk away. In cosmic irony or divine justice, we dismiss our parentage, while Luck decides which of our sons will live.
The boys on that road needed to know what they were passing through. They all do. Fitted with obsolete instructions and set loose in a modern arena, they are on the crimson killing field between a
world that is no more, and a world they aren’t ready for, in the merciless ambush of change. They should be told.
By understanding the tricks of their evolution, our sons may recognize the ancient whispers; and when the wily ghosts offer thrills and glory, our expendables may consider the source, and let it
It’s their call. Pitted against breeding, knowledge is sorrowfully inadequate, but instincts, like tricks, lose much of their terrible power once revealed.
History will forgive us for killing each other… on a limited planet with no viable enemies, we had no choice... and it may forgive us for using our sons so wantonly… but history will
not be kind to any generation that knew better, and failed to warn its sons about their dangerous legacy. Our heroes deserve better.
Merle Borg, 1/18/2003
rev. 5/6/2019, 1155 words
*US figures from: Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Annual injury deaths, all intents, 1999-2017, ages 14-26, (Female – 24.24/100,000 --- Male – 84.17/100,000)
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