Bite The Bullet

Four Bullets
The first mention of “bite the bullet” was, according to our friends at Wikipedia, in Rudyard Kipling’s late-1800s novel The Light That Failed. Photo: Pixabay

I’ll have the bullet (the thought of which makes my teeth hurt).

The first mention of “bite the bullet” was, according to our friends at Wikipedia, in Rudyard Kipling’s late-1800s novel The Light That Failed. And you may have seen the movies, wartime and western, where, in the absence of anesthesia, a profusely perspiring patient was biting down on a bullet.

I can think of better things to bite down on—a steak, for instance. Or better yet just to scream and then pass out (I’m not known for my bravery when faced with excruciating pain).

Thankfully, the evidence is lacking and biting a bullet before surgery is a myth. A leather strap would have been a more-realistic possibility. And more believable than that is the seventeenth-century reference to soldiers opening paper cartridges with their teeth before ramming gunpowder and lead balls into muskets.

History and mythology aside, I have used this idiom throughout my life. It’s reserved for those times when words just don’t suffice; when the upcoming trial, hardship or challenge is more than we can imagine facing in our own strength. And it’s used in all kinds of life scenarios, especially when we are having to call on an inner reserve that we don’t typically need. It’s time to take that step of faith, to summon that inner courage, to face up to a painful situation, to accept that challenge and take the next step. It’s time to bite the bullet.

On a less-strenuous note and perhaps with a little less angst, biting the bullet might simply mean that it is time to face up to something unpleasant, to accept the inevitable and perhaps even learn to embrace “it” and see how it will be woven into the fabric of our lives. Sometimes facing the “unpleasant” can surprise us. Life has a way of surprising us.

Whatever the reason for the “bullet du jour,” I’m thankful it’s not for anesthesia.

Pass the potatoes, please.

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