There is not enough darkness in the world
to extinguish one candle.
Saint Francis of Assisi
Where and when do we need courage?
It is often in the darkest moments of our lives that we need courage.
What comes to your mind when you think of a “darkness in the world” in your life? What were the circumstances? Who was involved, either by being present or even by being absent? What did you fear? What challenged you to go on? What allowed you to stay focused on the candlelight?
What does courage look like?
What images do you associate with courage? Do you think of Covid front line workers, soldiers facing overwhelming odds, cancer patients “fighting” for their lives?
Our ancestors left all that they knew, taking all that they had, in a single small suitcase to a new land where they braved long winter nights in sod huts. That takes courage. Women of the suffrage movement and those who took part in civil rights protests changed the destiny of many of us.
When you think of specific people you would call courageous, who comes to mind? Nelson Mandala? Wyatt Earp? Desmond Doss as portrayed in the Hacksaw Ridge movie? Or someone that you know: a grandmother who raised her Down’s Syndrome grandson from the time he was two? Perhaps you know a young man, who as law student became a quadriplegic, and went on to become a judge.
Who is most likely to be brave?
Courage is not limited to the old or the young, to the civilian or the soldier, to the nobleman or the peasant. Even the young can teach their elders.
A 9 year old boy, a member of the Junior Pilgrim Writers club, was facing unjustified corporal punishment from his father. The boy found the courage to say to his father with compassion and directness ,
“When I grow up, I don’t want to be like you.”
The Dad instantly aborted the flogging.
The next day the father met with his son’s school principal and said to her, “I want you to teach me what my son is learning.”
It is sometimes easier to face physical danger if you are strong or have a weapon. A strong faith may help during the grief of a painful loss. A strong medical team is a definite asset when facing a threatening illness. All of these situations, though, have the backdrop of fear.
Take a moment now to remember someone who you feel has courage. What fear were they willing to face? What is it that pulls them forward despite challenging circumstances?
Prerequisites of courage?
Courage is not a single act, but rather a mental set sustained over a longer period of time. At least three factors enter into the mindset of courage, whether it be a specific moment of bravery or an ongoing commitment.
Firstly, there is a momentary or a sustained fear. There is a potential to lose something of value, whether it be life, limb, a valued relationship, or something as abstract as democracy.
Secondly, there is a deeply held belief. The stronger your belief or value, the more it guides behavior.
Thirdly, courage doesn’t come with a guaranteed outcome. Courage arises from giving it our best efforts despite dismal odds. Courage unfolds by holding on to what we believe and letting go of the uncertainly of an outcome.
Called to courage – examples
- While hiking with their mom, a cougar lunges at her son and young daughter. Mom instinctively intercedes without thought of possible circumstances.
- A young father of two is told his leukemia is not responding to treatment. He is informed that increased doses of chemotherapy could be fatal. With little hesitation, he says “let’s go for it”. He understands there is no guarantee.
- A young widow holds two jobs to make ends meet. Somedays she wonders if one day, she will fall short of what it takes to provide for her family. Her commitment though never waivers.
In each example, there is a fear; there are values and beliefs that guide behavior; and the outcome is uncertain.
What courage do you need?
Think of a situation in your life that you are reluctant to confront or deal with? What kind of courage does it call for? What do you need the courage to do or to stop doing? Do you need the courage to speak out or the courage to be silent? Do you need the courage to stand alone or to ask for help? To say “yes” or to say “no”? To stand your ground or to admit you are wrong?
What is required may be something major, or it may be to simply do what you can with what you have, where you are at that moment.
Courage and writing
It is often said that writing itself takes courage. For those who use writing to explore beliefs and values, writing can clarify and strengthen commitment. Looking into our souls and asking ourselves, “What do we stand for?”, is an act of courage.
For writers or “wanna’ be writers”, it can take courage to accept a challenging writing assignment, to persevere with a creative project or to try a new genre. Pursuing publication requires the courage to face rejection or criticism.
Writing has the power to affirm courage. A veteran of three wars gave his first Armistice talk honoring the 21 men with whom he served who did not return. Tears came to his eyes as nine year old Melissa presented him with a bundle of thank you notes from her grade four class thanking him for his sacrifice and his courage.
Many veterans of many wars violated military regulations by keeping personal diaries, often openly writing in quiet periods at the front lines. Letters to and from war zones were reminders that there was something to fight for, something to return to.
The Train in Winter is a truly chilling portrait of ordinary women who found the courage to do extraordinary things as part of the WW2 French resistance.
In Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher draws our attention to how writers have helped reshape our society.
The website This I believe is an international organization that shares people’s writing about their core values. There are over 100,000 essays written by people from all walks of life and categorized by theme. They also have a weekly featured podcast.
Writing strategy of the month – The essay
Please read several of the essays on the “This I believe” website, then write your own essay espousing what you believe about some aspect of life. The site has generously provided guidelines which are as follows:
Tell a story about you. Explain the circumstances that shaped your core values. Be specific. Describe moments when a belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work and family. Your story need be neither heartwarming nor gut-wrenching. It can even be funny but it should be real. Tie the story to the essence of your philosophy of life.
Be brief: Your statement should be between 500-600 words.
Be positive: Write about what you believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid statements of religious dogma, preaching, or editorializing.
Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid using “we”. Tell a story about your own life. This is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. The recommendation is that you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, editing it until you have the words and tone that truly echo your beliefs and the way you speak.
Photo question of the month
What do I need to remember as I pass through the war zones of my life?
Please write an essay in response to this question.