Deserving Has Nothing to Do With It

I thoroughly disliked Clint Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven. But this line has stuck with me.

Goals Status:

  • Marathon: On Track. As soon as I finish this, I’m off to do a three-mile run.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind Schedule. I’ve started Chapter 3. My writers group meets this week, and it looks like I’ll get to go for the first time in a long time.
  • 100 Posts: Behind schedule. This is my 18th post for the year. I expect to be caught up by the end of this week, which will allow me more days per week to work on the book.

During the climactic shooting rampage that caps off Unforgiven, the thoroughly-unsympathetic protagonist has wounded the thoroughly-unsympathetic sheriff, who is lying on the ground, helpless. As the protagonist moves in for the kill, the sheriff sighs, “I don’t deserve to die like this.”

The protagonist (I think his name is William Munny) growls in response “Deservin’s got nothin’ to do with it!” Then he blows the sheriff away.

It’s a pretty bleak line to carry away from a movie, but this line has stuck with me since I saw the movie in the theater, fifteen years ago or so (I can’t remember quite when it came out).

It has stuck with me because it’s true, and because the truth of it really isn’t bleak at all. It reminds us of the need for courage.

When a friend dies, we say he deserved a longer life, or his family deserved more time with him.

When we’ve spent ten years at a job doing our best work, and one day a boss decides we’re no longer essential and shows us the door, we say we deserved better.

When a devoted single mother gets into a car wreck and can’t afford to get her car fixed, we say she didn’t deserve this.

When we discover we have cancer, or some other life-threatening condition, we say we don’t deserve it.

All these statements are true. And pretty much irrelevant.

The truth is this: you could die, be laid off, wreck your car, or be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. And you wouldn’t deserve it.

So the question to ask yourself is this: Am I willing to live for all I’m worth today, even though my life could be shattered tomorrow?

Do I have the courage to pursue my dream, even though I deserve better than years of hard work with nothing to show for it in return?

Do I have the courage to show my family and friends how much they mean to me, even though I don’t deserve to die tomorrow?

Do I have the courage to keep living, keep giving, keep loving, even though I didn’t deserve that cancer diagnosis?

It’s entirely up to you. And deserving has nothing to do with it.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Mona Karel

    WOW. big wow. And yes yes yes. I think of how many friends I’ve already lost, including my husband. Do I deserve my (relative) good health? Did they deserve to die? And how many extremely careful, healthy people are lost in accidents?
    All we can do is live the best we can and if possible share life with others.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Thanks, Mona! It’s such an important point to remember, and one that escaped me for so many years. I’m sorry for your loss, and I applaud your courage for carrying on. Well done!