Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.
John Watson; Also attributed to Philo of Alexandria
Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.
Emily Dickinson *
Most of us experience fear at one time or another. I know I do. Or we may experience worry, anxiety, or that sinking feeling inside us that stops us in our tracks in the face of a difficult situation. If we let it, those feelings and worrisome thoughts can preoccupy us, running like a tape in our heads that plays over and over, draining our energy or preventing us from doing what we know we should do.
Unfortunately the stuff we can’t or don’t do gets a lot of attention- especially in our heads- as do the imaginings of dire outcomes that may not materialize. The reality though for most of us, is that we actually do the things we need to in spite of the fear or worry or fretting, far more often than we don’t. Somehow, we muster what energy we have to keep going, fulfill our responsibilities, and do what needs to be done even when we don’t want to or we are afraid. This is courage.
At first glance, we may not regard what we do as courageous because it seems ordinary. I’m talking about the things that we take for granted: getting up in the morning to go to work, doing the laundry, making meals, paying the bills, helping a friend out- when it feels like parts of our lives are difficult or falling apart. Maybe things are rough at work, or we’re supporting family members who may not want our help, or we’re living with persistent aches and pains, or experiencing a painful separation, or…. The list goes on. The fact remains that most of us carry on, going quietly about our everyday lives with little fanfare.
I suspect this remarkable state of affairs goes largely unnoticed for two reasons: First- we may be so preoccupied with what’s on our minds that we don’t get a chance to acknowledge all the stuff we do really well and that we are brave. After all, at the end of the day, we still need to go to work; the laundry still has to be done; and meals need to be prepared. Second, we don’t know what others are facing because most don’t widely share their experiences or worries with others and if we are honest about it- we don’t always ask. We also tend to make assumptions (I certainly do) based on our own lives as the reference point. I cannot begin to know what some people have to face every day or the particular contexts of their lives that are shaped through the intersection of gender, race, sexual orientation, poverty and so on. People live their lives with quiet dignity and grace in spite of the burdens and responsibilities they carry even when they want to scream in frustration or run in the other direction.
The root of the word courage is from the Latin cor meaning heart. When we act courageously, we act from the heart- with an inner strength that carries us forward to live with integrity through the routine of the every day. Certainly not perfectly or without mistakes, but living each day with some hope. And so it’s important to observe and pay attention to those ordinary courageous moments, knowing others are likely living courageously as well. And may we be kind to ourselves and one another, knowing each of us is doing the best we can.
*The Emily Dickinson quote was taken from Anne Lamott’s book Stitches, page 19.