Swing on a star or be a fish?

My older daughter told me once that she has the heart of a fighter. Knowing her as I do, I concur, but it started me thinking. What does it really mean to have the heart of a fighter?  Rocky movies aside, I think of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Now we all know that a fish “can’t do anything but swim in a brook,” according to the old song. Yet is there anything more heroic, more inspirational, more heartbreakingly noble than the mighty salmon battling against currents, hurtling up waterfalls, being pummeled against rocks in his quest to reach his goal? 

In life, we don’t always see in the average Joe or Jane, a fighter’s heart. When my niece   announced that her son has successfully completed potty training, there were appropriate cheers from all concerned about it. Although the toddler was credited, certainly, for mastering the feat, my niece (who represents countless other mothers ) surely demonstrated the heart of a fighter. She saw a goal. She set to work. Despite setbacks, accidents, and tears—her own and his—she fought through the frustration, the stress, and all the doubts (was he too young? Too old? Would he have bowel phobias? Would he be scarred for life?) Despite that, defeat was not an option for her, and she pushed through it all. Her son would be potty trained, or she would die trying.

That’s the essence of a salmon’s final journey. He must reach his spawning grounds or die trying.

What keeps us fighting? For a fish, it’s instinct. God-given instinct. A fish, as far as we know, has no plan for his life. He’s just swimming in a brook, remember? He simply follows that inner, most amazing urge to head upstream. If it’s instinct, is it all that noble? Perhaps not. Except that I still see in that single salmon fighting his way past rocks, up mountains of water, with predators on all sides, a tenacity that I admire. He simply never gives up, right to the end.

So then, perhaps the heart of a fighter is more about not giving up than about heroic deeds done. It’s about when the boss says, ‘you’re fired,’ and you go home, have a good cry, then update your resume. The heart of a fighter comes to life after you receive your fifteenth ( or 50th) cold-hearted letter of rejection for your novel, and though you swear you’ll never again write another word, you find yourself jotting down notes for a new story on a napkin at Starbucks. For some of us, just getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of another is as much about the heart of a fighter as that salmon swimming upstream.

But whether it’s potty training a toddler or writing the next great novel, it’s about not giving up.  For the salmon, it’s all about reaching the calm waters at the end of his monumental struggle. There, he passes on his fighter heart legacy to his progeny. There he dies, a hero in my books.

In my view, he’s not a hero because he made it–he’s a hero because he never stopped trying.  A salmon may not be able to “write his name or read a book”, but he embodies the heart of a fighter–in spades.

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