Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Single Impression -- Courage

In our culture we normally think of courage as related to action, as overcoming fear to do something. As society we value individualism, or as it is frequently called "rugged individualism." The two things -- courage and individualism -- are frequently linked in our cultural mythology, so that courage is often mythologized as actions by individuals often struggling against the flow of society or their own social group. This emphasis on individualism and action, means that most Americans come to fear the inactive reliance on others. Acting to help others is good, while being helped by others is bad and shameful. Thus, often our greatest fear is of becoming helpless, by illness, circumstance or age, and having to take a passive role dependent upon the help of other.

Over the past year, I have observed (through daily phone conversations) the struggles with fear of my 85 year old mother, as she has to let go of doing things and accept (reluctantly and with much rebellion) the assistance of others in caring for my 96 year old father. If courage involves overcoming fear, than sometimes the most courageous path is inaction and acknowledging dependence.

winter courage

learning to let go,
accepting help from others,
work-worn hands at rest.

November 15, 2008

For other poems on the theme of "courage" see One Single Impression Sunday November 16, 2008.


Beth P. said...

oh, Sue, that is so good...courage in a later season--that is so helpful. Thank you.

I have a love affair with elderly hands. They say so much. I have a picture in my mind of my Grandmother's knobby thumbs that make me choke up with gratitude everytime...

Thank you.

Deborah Godin said...

Wonderful poem and essay on life and aging and courage! It reminds me of the way we talk about giving and receiving, too, i.e It's more blessed to give than to receive. If we dont'receive we deprive others of their giving. And so you have pointed out the spiritual 'loop' involved with courageous action and inaction, dependence and independence. Beautifully done!

anthonynorth said...

This is a vitally important point about courage - the courage to be no longer self reliant. I can see it could be so difficult for many.

SandyCarlson said...

So very true, my friend. So very true. Our cultural expectations of courage really do cause loneliness and isolation. That's too bad. Your poem and your prose touch my heart.

Jim said...

Sue, it does take courage to accept help, we do things so well by ourselves, until ... (winter).
I don't like to shovel snow so I would let someone else do that for me if it ever came.
I talked with a fellow I know casually and happened to be in the blood letting lab with him the other day. He said he lacked energy and was tired when he shouldn't be.
Today he told me that he didn't have the energy he had back when he was 80, he has turned to be 90 now. He drives, etc and seems to be doing quite well. And has a lot of courage as far as I am concerned.
My poem was an attempt to be dark and strange but not real heavy. Usually mine are intended to be cheerful with a touch of humor.

Anonymous said...

Sue, I can relate to this verse. My fiercely independent mom had to go into assisted living this past summer. She is doing well, but still has a hard time "allowing" herself to be taken care of.

You put in words what i have been thinking, thank you.

qualcosa di bello said...

becoming old is not for the fainthearted, it requires an inner courage that is not often considered...i very much like the perspective you offer

Quiet Paths said...

I loved the story as much as the verse. I am seeing courage well up in my Mom of 86 as she faces age and the unknown. Thank you for this.

tumblewords said...

Survival requires constant leaps of courage. Well worded!

Pam said...

Years ago I wrote a poem that pictured women in different parts of their lives-- my old woman character had her hands at rest also. This is always a difficult transition for the family and the mothers whose hands have always been so busy. Thank you for sharing this with us.

gautami tripathy said...

I must show this to my mom!

foundations of wonder

zoya gautam said...

..If courage involves overcoming fear, then sometimes the most courageous path is inaction and acknowledging dependence_if this is not poignant what is _
"work-worn hands at rest"_
("a picture in my mind of my Grandmother's knobby thumbs..")
..many thanks..

Will said...


I came to your blog, through the Velvet Blog. Your haikus are simply beautiful.

Your thoughts on courage reflect what I experience in my work as a pastoral care counselor with Hospice Care Network. I see that people who are able to call up that quiet courage within are better able to see their end-of-life as meaningful and purposeful. So many people who receive care say, "I am a burden." I listen and hope to lead them to a different understanding of dignity but they are not always willing to let go of the belief that receptivity is a kind of personal failure. The hardest thing to accept is just where we are in life.