WORDS: Courage by David Whyte

The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

Courage by David Whyte

From Consolations


is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins is to look in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart.

Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future.  To be courageous is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.  To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on.  To be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.

The French philosopher Camus used to tell himself quietly to live to the point of tears, not as a call for maudlin sentimentality, but as an invitation to the deep privilege of belonging and the way belonging affects us, shapes us and breaks our heart at a fundamental level.  It is a fundamental dynamic of human incarnation to be moved by what we feel, as if surprised by the actuality and privilege of love and affection and its possible loss.  Courage is what love looks like when tested by the simple everyday necessities of being alive.

Parenthood is a timeless test of courage and alignment.  To be a new mother or father and live up to and into the overwhelming power and helplessness of that new love is to be heartfelt, to be courageous, just by the fact of being shaken and realigned with a new and surprising life, come from nowhere.  The first courageous step may be firmly into complete bewilderment and a fine state of not knowing.

As new parents we may not even know what the word parent means, we may not know what to do or how to get through, we live literally to the point of tears and fears, our own and our child’s.  There is no enemy line to throw ourselves at, no medal to be earned.  The interior template of courage shows itself slowly, imperceptibly, the interior psyche settling and seating itself into a relationship with a future that chooses as its foundation a new and unknown child.  From the outside we see only someone walking along the street, heavily pregnant, or pushing a stroller, weighted by the bric-a-brac of parenthood, no glamor in the outward show, deserving of no medal, but on the inside, a heartfelt, robustly vulnerable and courageous realigning of one life with another.  The beginning of a courageous bearing inside that will only later come to fruition on the outside.

As actual parents or not, we become courageous whenever we live closely and to the point of tears with any new possibility made known inside us, whenever we demonstrate a faith in the interior annunciations and align ourselves with the new and surprising and heartfelt necessities of even the average existence.  To allow ourselves to feel deeply and thoroughly what has already come into being is to change our future, simply by living up to the consequence of knowing what we hold in our affections.

From the inside, it can feel like confusion, only slowly do we learn what we really care about, and allow our outer life to be realigned in the gravitational pull; with maturity that robust vulnerability comes to feel like the only necessary way forward, the only real invitation and the surest, safest ground from which to step.  On the inside we come to know who and what and how we love and what we can do to deepen that love; only from the outside and only by looking back, does it look like courage.

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