Accept Your Death…

Author: Gary Hart

At a very low point in my life, I saw an improbable but achievable goal disappear almost literally overnight.  Thereafter, I received upwards of ten thousand letters, overwhelmingly kind, generous, understanding and supportive.  But, of course, this was thirty years ago before the age of trolling, bitterness, and meanness.

Even after this much passage of time, one letter is indelible.  It came from a college friend of even more decades ago.  This is what it said: “On the eve of a great battle, the chief of a large Native American tribe gathered his warrior-braves and said this: ‘Accept your death and become dangerous.’”

Accept your death and become dangerous.

Long reflection has led to this interpretation.  To accept your death does not mean to become reckless or needlessly to throw your life away.  It means to know that life is finite.  At some point it ends for all of us, whether in battle or on a hospital bed.  With all the joys, and heartaches, it may hold, for all of us it eventually comes to an end.

Accept that fact.  Do not try to avoid it.  Do not think that money or fame or power will provide a way around that conclusion.  It is man’s fate.  It is the human condition.

But what about becoming dangerous.  That seems to mean throwing away the hesitancy that bind us, the fear that prevents us from accepting challenge, all of life’s roadblocks.  Cast off self-doubt, a sense of personal limits, all those reasons that tell us what we cannot strive for or try to achieve.

Becoming dangerous certainly does not mean risking the well being of others, driving recklessly, endangering those around us, or being casually destructive.  It is a much more profound insight than that.

Becoming dangerous means questioning authority.  It means operating on the frontier.  It means leaving behind conventional wisdom and yesterday’s methods.  It means offering new approaches to new realities.

It often means being ahead of others.  Establishment wisdom, in politics and often in life, considers anyone out of the frame to be out of control and therefore dangerous.  This is certainly true of politics.  Danger in this sense is exciting to some but frightening to most others.

The idea of danger and dangerousness almost always involves peril, risk, and hazard.  As used by the tribal chieftain and intended here, it is different.  To lay aside concern for life and wellbeing is to enter a realm of possibility, especially creative possibility.  Anyone who challenges the status quo is considered dangerous to the established order.  This is especially true for those in power.  The new woman or man is considered a threat, a kind of danger, to those in power.

This becomes even more true when the liberated man or woman has nothing to lose, who figuratively if not literally has accepted that life is limited and finite.  In his beautiful poem, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, W. B. Yeats has this line: “The years to come seemed waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind.”

And in Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses these thoughts: “Life piled on life were all too little, and of one to me little remains: but every hour is saved from that eternal silence, something more, a bringer of new things…”

The thought is the same.  Live in the moment and bring new things.  There is a kind of danger in this…letting go of sameness, forging ahead often alone, exploring the new and different.  For many this is called seeking progress.

Death is ahead for all.  Accept it and move on.  Do not accept ease and comfort.  Accept the danger of breaking with stale convention and breaking new ground, even if that represents a threat to those around us.

To become dangerous is to shape one’s own destiny and possibly the fate of others.



4 Responses to “Accept Your Death…”

  1. Dean H Cowles Says:

    Love the blog. Watched Front Runner on the plane from Amsterdam to Nairobi yesterday. Brought back lots of good and sad memories. I was on Sen Frank Church staff when he ran and lost his Presidential bid in 1980. Then went to work for Wyoming Outdoor Council in charge of protecting the Clean Air Act. We had the honor of visiting you in your Denver office and I was impressed. Then I found out my mother in law sat behind you at Bethany Nazarene College in a class.

    Had my own personal crisis in 1982 while working on the Bar Cross Ranch for Grateful Dead songwriter John Perry Barlow and felt God calling me into the ministry. Attended Nazarene Theological Seminary and started several urban faith based compassionate ministries and churches in Indianapolis where my wife was doing her OB/Gyn Residency and then spent 20 years doing the same in Denver and as Compassion International USA Director. Now we are retired living in Kenya working as full time volunteers at Tenwek Mission Hospital.

    We are 60 and looking at life anew through those eyes of “Death and Dangerous”. Your blog reminded me of the passion I felt to change the world through politics in the 80s and then through faith based community development and compassion in the 90s and 2000s. Now that “dangerous journey” extends to rural Africa where the real danger is just making it through the first few years of life, both for new born and their mother. We want to change that by training Africans in high risk OB/Gyn & maternal care. We are starting the first OB Residency of its kind in Africa.

    Yes it’s dangerous moving forward but looking back is too. We can’t change the past but only improve on the present to enhance the future. Thanks for keeping those dangerous dreams alive Sen Hart.

  2. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    This comment was prompted by Mr. Dedie’s brief comment on the Cold War (snippy or pithy depending on your POV I guess) on the previous thread titled Amerexit. I considered posting this there, but am posting it here due to its resonance with Sen. Hart’s current profound message. Although the musical levity at the end now seems somewhat misplaced I’m leaving it in, in the spirit of the words on Mel Torme’s tombstone (which lies 30 yards from my father’s), which read: “Music, the greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below.”

    Respectfully John, a subject as immense as the Cold War, implicating relations between the U.S. and USSR and (post Dec. 1991) between the U.S. and Russia, is not fit for one-liners.

    I urge you and everyone to take the time to watch the above-linked Feb. 7, 2018 lecture given by my early-1970s political science mentor, UC Berkeley Professor (and later executive vice-chancellor and provost) George Breslauer, titled: “How Did U.S.-Russian Relations Get So Bad and How Might They Be Improved?”

    Truer words were never spoken! So filled with data points and unassailable logic is it that listening to George brought back the sensation of my (long-haired semi-radical) 19 year old self earnestly taking copious notes during his lectures!

    The classes I took in 1973-74 with Prof. Breslauer, who was then a newly-minted assistant professor, were so trenchant, well-wrought and (in sum) practically idealistic as to actually make plausible the idea that political power could be exercised responsibly and in the public interest. By people like me and my classmates! (This is a very different feeling than the familiar idea of “speaking truth to power,” as Norman Solomon points out in his recent spot-on op-ed here:

    Given the ever-present specter of nuclear war by accident or design, one of our fondest dreams in those years was the possibility of responsibly transcending the Cold War and (in sum) creating the “free and diverse world” that JFK had defined as our goal in having fought the Cold War (overtly and covertly) at such a hellish cost in blood and treasure (in Korea, Latin America, Indonesia and most ruinously, in Vietnam, which was still going strong in the early 1970s.

    Our dreams declined with the rise of Reaganism in 1980-81 but semi-miraculously the rise to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR in 1985 revived them. It turned out Reagan personally may have been bothered by the specter of Armageddon and been genuinely open to what was called “the zero option” (which came to refer to zeroing-out nukes altogether, although obviously one can never abolish the know-how and means to re-create them). And Reagan and Gorby made a start at burying the hatchet and associated rhetoric such as Reagan’s hyperbolic “evil empire” description of the sclerotic 1980s USSR and the replies-in-kind about us made by one of Gorby’s hard-line predecessors, Yuri Andropov.

    “All” that was needed then was a thoughtful US counterpart to Gorby to come into power here in Jan. 1989. And, as it happened, Sen. Hart’s success in the 1984 Democratic nomination race made him the front-runner for both his party’s presidential nomination and general election in 1988.

    In that “capacity” Sen. Hart and his daughter and Hart’s top foreign policy aide made a trip to Russia in December 1986 and met with General Secretary Gorbachev and his top aides. A photo essay about the Hart-Gorbachev meetings is found on the Hart Friends and Supporters Facebook page here:

    For an almost unbearably eloquent and poignant account of what the world lost when Sen. Hart was taken down in 1987-88, followed 3 year later by Gorbachev, read Ken Dean’s exchange with Brian McCarthy in the comments section to this photo-essay entry.

    In a related comment placed in the Community section of the Facebook page for friends and supporters of Sen. Hart (which Facebook site is administered by Brian) I relayed the story told at a recent forum here in Los Angeles by Prof. Breslauer’s fellow scholar of Russian politics and history, Prof. Stephen F. Cohen, and his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel, about the run-up to the Hart-Gorbachev in-person meetings in December 1987. Stephen and Katrina accompanied Hart and his daughter Andrea on that trip, during which the entourage took a 3 hour “side-trip” to Tolstoy’s ancestral home on one of the coldest days of the year! See the video at the foot of my comment at 1:31, here:

    To tweak Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager’s immortal lyrical line: Let “everything old be new again!” Take it away Hugh:!

  3. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Doh! There’s a typo important enough to need a correction: In my second reference to the Hart-Gorbachev in-person meetings (in the penultimate paragraph) I inadvertently wrote they had occurred December 1987. As I correctly wrote in the 4th paragraph from the bottom, the meetings occurred in December 1986.

  4. Brian McCarthy Says:


    I read about this unique expression, “accept your death and become dangerous”, in Mr Bai’s book, All the Truth is Out. It has stayed with me and I have thought about its meaning myself. I think it means that there is something liberating about an experience, even one traumatic and unpleasant, that causes a person of talent, of intelligence, and/or of other gifts, to decide to color outside the lines and disregard the so-called rules, thus making them dangerous to those who fear anything outside the Pale.

    I also appreciated the W B Yeats quote, though my favorite quote of his will always be the speech he gave in the Irish Senate against the law banning divorce, which he took as an affront against Anglo-Irish Protestants. “We against whom you have done this thing, are no petty people. We are one of the great stocks of Europe. We are the people of Burke; we are the people of Grattan; we are the people of Swift, the people of Emmet, the people of Parnell. We have created the most of the modern literature of this country. We have created the best of its political intelligence.”

    An American Senator I admire quoting an Irish Senator I admire makes for a pretty good day.


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