I finally saw The Hunger Games, the spring 2012 blockbuster about a government-mandated contest that pits 24 randomly selected teenagers against each other in a fight to the death on live TV. Think Survivor with no tribes, more clothing, and knife fights instead of Tribal Councils. Those who know both say the book was better. I’ll probably agree once I read it, but I did greatly enjoy the movie and was actually a bit disappointed when it ended.
One thing that intrigued me about The Hunger Games was the notion of sacrifice. The movie opens with a timid, frail little girl getting chosen as a Tribute to compete in the Games against her will. Only one of the 24 Tributes will survive. Knowing her little sister wouldn’t last five minutes, Katniss (played by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is a skilled archer and has honed her survival skills in brutal, poverty-stricken District 12, becoming her family’s chief provider and emotional core after the death of her father turned her mother into an empty shell. The odds are against her, yet she goes anyway with no hesitation.
I’ve thought over the years about the notion of dying to protect someone. Millions of people risk their lives to protect others in various ways – police officers, firefighters, Secret Service members, and soldiers, to name a few – but risking my life isn’t part of the job description for a flight dispatcher. So probably the only way I’ll ever need to do that is a freak occurrence such as a mass shooting, a car accident, or a burning house. In the unlikely event that I ever find myself in that position, I’ll need to quickly make a profound decision:
Am I willing to die for this person?
As a younger man, say in my teens or early twenties, if I were honest with you and myself, I think I would hesitate for pretty much anybody. Perhaps I would convince myself to take the bullet or jump on the ticking bomb to save a close family member, but perhaps I would chicken out, especially if we weren’t close. I might rationalize it by saying the person would’ve wanted me to save myself instead because I was still young and had my whole life ahead of me, or by saying they wouldn’t die for me, or by saying it was clearly God’s will for them to die and for me to live. But there’s a really good chance I would save myself. I’m not proud of that, but at least I’m honest.
Things are different now.
I’ve been married for nearly ten years to my best friend and partner for life. We have two wonderful little boys. One of my primary missions in life is to ensure that those three people stay safe and have everything they need. An interesting protective instinct has grown within me, an instinct that I believe can override my own instinct for self-preservation if I ever find them in danger. If some guy pulls out a gun in our church or a movie theater, I’ve already programmed myself with Job 1: protect Jenny and the boys at any cost. Don’t think. Don’t rationalize. Don’t hesitate. Just get between them and whatever is threatening them.
I’m no hero. I don’t have spectacular survival skills or great marksmanship or unusual bravery. What I do have is a mission: ensuring the survival of those three people. It’s actually quite liberating to make other people your primary mission, to love them enough that you know you would die for them without hesitation. It took a while to get here, but I think this is one of the most important parts of growing up.