Sunday, January 31, 2010


To write (fairly publicly) about depression is an act of courage in itself. So they tell me.

Courage? Was ever a more misunderstood word?

What is courage?

I would first of all discard the patriarchal and militaristic appropriation of the word "courage" for nefarious purposes. I think of all those millions of soldiers dying in wars not of their making. To my mind they weren’t full of courage. Fear and terror of their lives, certainly. Some of them were just barely out of diapers. Dying for some mythological cause created by monsters that were never near a battlefield. There’s never a justification for war. These poor young people are sold the hero myth and encouraged to give up their one and only precious lives for it. And take the lives of the most innocent of bystanders with them. War is all about killing children. Millions and millions of children. There is never a justification for that. And courage doesn't come into it.

We need some new definitions of courage.

Courage: ordinary people running into fires and diving into water to rescue others.
Courage: those tent cities, those smiling faces of Haitians rising up again after a devastation beyond our wildest imagination.
Courage: my friend Dan making sure he called me every day through this rough spot in spite of his own fearsome challenges and pain.

My mother showed the most remarkable courage in the face of a cancer that was vicious and unforgiving. She chose multiple amputations to halt its progress in the face of unbelievable pain rather than succumb (as she was advised) in a much shorter, morphine hazed alternative.

Courage is the face of the ordinary facing extraordinary challenges.

Life is fraught with landmines, often just those internal ones that we’ve negotiated from childhood. Sometimes, it's a conscious choice to embrace these landmines while taking the time to diffuse some of them and then moving on, knowing we will get the strength to face the next one in its time.

One of the best definitions of courage I have ever read is:

Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow.": Dorothy Thompson

And sometimes courage is just about feeling the fear but doing it anyway. Starting by getting out of bed. And putting one foot in front of the other.


  1. Hey there, my friend. I like this topic. I know that for some people, on certain days, getting out of bed is courageous. I also think about the courage it takes to raise children, to allow your teenager to fall down on her own terms and pick herself up again - that courage to not step in and help or ride in on a white horse and rescue. It takes courage to face our own pain, and it takes courage to be open to joy.

    I know you will continue to get out of bed in the morning, knowing that the black dog may be pacing. Thank you for this post and the black dog post.

    With big hugs,

  2. I so agree Verna, to allow people the lessons of their own mistakes, to not try to 'fix' others, to allow others their own enlightenments, is a gift both to oneself and to them.

    And yes, sometimes it feels that just getting out of bed, facing what seems insurmountable difficulties takes every ounce of it!

    Good to see you here!


  3. Yes, there is always tomorrow. For me what helped me often was what a teacher said to a freshman class in college. Just make it to the end of the block and turn the corner. I almost didn't make it that year but somehow I did turn the corner and many times since then and somehow I got to be 72 and am still getting out of bed each morning putting one foot in front of the other. Keep on writing. You told me to do this when I needed to hear it.

  4. Karin:
    Yes, our words can sometimes be returned to us as a gift.
    Thanks for that.
    And I'm turning the corner!! ;^)

  5. I do agree that the clichéd definition of courage as soldiers going into battle is absurd, because most of them are just doing what they're told to do. The really courageous act would be refusing to go to war and refusing to kill people.

    It's sometimes difficult to tell courage from simple stubbornness, determination and necessity, which is what keeps a lot of people going in dire circumstances.

    I guess the essence of courage is doing something you think is valuable or necessary despite knowing that it's physically, mentally or socially dangerous.

  6. "Starting by getting out of bed. And putting one foot in front of the other."

    and then writing about it publicly. Courage wears many masks. I like the definition that begins, "courage is a quality of spirit..."

    Courage would seem to be one quality of your spirit!

  7. Hm, when yesterday night reading this, I did not immediately comment as I wanted to put words properly.
    Coming back, I see I could not describe my thoughts better than Nick did.

    One additional thought, though, of which I hope it won't be taken as nitpicking.
    Although knowing what you mean, webwisewoman (dangers, imponderables, inconveniences, problems, rigours etc.): Production of landmines, and their usage are such a perfidity that I think, 'landmines' is not the proper term in this context.

  8. I like your thoughts on courage ...i think i lost mine but i do try to set one foot in front of the other and hopefully i courage will catch up with me again.


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