We talk a lot about fears and facing them, of pursuing goals and dreams and the fortitude necessary to achieve them. About quests, and the myriad tasks to master, and demons to deal with along the roads to our destinies.
But one thing rests below the surface of all of these things: The courage required to get there.
I love quotes about courage, and there are so very many of them.
Starting from Cicero: “Without courage, none of the other virtues matter.”
To Shakespeare’s: “Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.”
To Maya Angelo’s: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
And in practice: “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather the facing of it.” Oft-quoted in myriad forms.
We think of this in terms of magnificent quests, no? Scaling that mountain, sailing off with Odysseus across the untamed seas, facing the beast at the gate.
But in reality, courage is a must for meeting our day-to-day lives. Just the act of getting up, going to work every morning, dealing with all the insanity it takes to even arrive there, much less the day itself, month after month, year after year, in order to take care of oneself and one’s family, well, that can often take a pretty decent amount of courage. Just keeping on keeping on.
But courage isn’t “out there” somewhere; it’s not about facing an outer conquest at all, but rather, just like its evil twin, fear, lives staunchly within your own breast.
If you don’t find it there, you don’t find it anywhere.
We have a tendency to think, however, that you either have it or you don’t. Where did we get this idea? I blame books and movies 🙂 I mean, without a heroic quest of some sort, you don’t really have a movie. Or a book for that matter. Our main character is our hero or we quickly lose interest.
And while some folks surely must be just born with the virtue, for most of us, it’s realized as we face the trials of our lives, from learning to walk to summiting Mt. Everest.
It’s mastered in steps.
Some of those include running screaming into the night in fear. Having courage doesn’t mean you never fall down . . .
The most courageous among us face the deepest fears. But we face them every day, in small ways and big, as we keep putting one foot in front of the other toward our goals.
In books and film, we watch as the hero gains more strength as she goes. As she masters one test after another—even through her fear—she grows not only stronger, but more courageous as well. The outer conflict always mirrors the inner one—that place where fear resides firmly in her breast. Otherwise there would be no conflict!
And then of course at precisely 7/8 of the way through the story, the climax occurs and she faces the depth of her fear in order to summon the courage to confront the final monster. All the previous has just been building her up to be able to do so.
Our lives are the same, although they don’t play out in the 3-Act, 12 plot-point manner of a novel or film. But through facing conflict, we grow. We gain strength. We find the essence of courage alive in our very souls.
Lola, the old crone (and everybody’s favorite!) in the upcoming launch of I Just Came Here To Dance, portrays courage at every single step of this journey. We see it in her. We hear her admonitions to practice it. We watch her tackle the final crux of fear we’ll all have to face, with enough courage that it spills over onto all of the other characters in the novel, and to the reader as well.
In a pivotal scene with a tortured young man we want to love but watch fall deeper into the addiction pit, as he unleashes his fear and fury on her, Lola sits calmly but firm. Her manner harsh, many would say.
But her reply to him was simple:
“I earned my strength,” Lola said. “Staring down reality didn’t turn me yella.”
And it’s always our choice.
How do you find the courage to go on?
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.