12 August 2014

Avec courage

The etymology of courage, per the Online Etymology Dictionary (and its extensive sources) is that it first appears in Middle English circa 1300; it stems from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) "heart, innermost feelings; temper," from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor "heart" (see heart), thus "courage" remains a common metaphor for inner strength.

There are many famous quotes about courage, from Winston Churchill to Amelia Earhart to Nelson Mandela - many of which speak to courage as not an absence of fear, but the ability to push through that fear. If you look through the recent Facebook posts of MARSOC, you will see the names of those who reacted to horrifically fearful situations with absolute courage to save the lives of others, in some cases standing directly in the line of fire to do so. Courage of that nature is not just bravery, but selfless love of those who stand to the left and right of them. It is not something easily found, on or off the battlefield.

Courage to me is an everyday act to be able to fight whatever fear appears - that thing that is in our hearts giving us that intangible strength to go on through the unknown and, sometimes, the horrible known, and still keep fighting for good. My definitions of courage are best stated through the quotes below:

"It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory and love it anyway." - Oscar Wilde

Someone whose intellect I value a great deal reminded me of this quote recently; he was talking about his belief in continuing to persist in making the world a safer place and why we must continue trying to do so.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

Whether you agree with it or not, I would rather climb the tree and venture out on a limb to see beyond the branches rather than stand holding the trunk and peering from my tiptoes. (Then again, I don't weigh that much, so odds are, the branch will hold.)

And my favorite:

The above being said, my last five days were a veritable chiffonade salad of life, some sweet ingredients, some bitter and some I had never before encountered. I am in the midst of forging a new life for myself and in that, dealing with uncertainty and unknowns, both personally and professionally. Add to that my responsibility for the lives of two other people and their needs and it is incredibly daunting if I stop and look up at the towering granite face of tomorrow.

I try not to do that, of course. I work for tomorrow by ensuring my chalk bag is full today, my shoes aren't slick and finding the right handhold to get me up my ascent for the next 24 hours. I measure my progress and maybe I have to move laterally for a day or week to find the next route upward. I don't think I have courage in doing so, I think it is simply what I have to do. I am more afraid of not trying than I am of failing. I am more fearful of living bereft of the range of life's emotions than I am of feeling them. I am not brave in this, as a matter of fact, I am probably more foolish than I might care to admit, but it's just who I am.

I think I have felt visceral fear for my life three times, and only one was in my military aircraft, at takeoff from the ship, when we were overloaded on a ridiculously hot day in an underpowered bird and upon sliding off the deck immediately began a downward dive toward the ocean. That time it was my training that allowed me to grab the controls from the co-pilot, fight gravity by using the water for extra power (ground effect) and coax the aircraft to a speed that allowed us to gain flight and eventually, elevation. The other two times, it was my will to live that drove me to action.

Much of life is uncontrollable, much of it is uncertain and certainly, much of it is not preordained. I do what I can today to try and shape tomorrow so that I will have a handhold to grasp in my journey upward. I have hope that those things I am working towards or putting the energy into come to fruition. Doesn't mean I am not terrified of slipping off the sheer wall to the ground below, but if it happens, well, I guess I'll have to just find a different route.

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