Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: Are you living with dignity and courage?
Courage. What is that? It’s a subset of the virtue of fortitude, about which Aquinas says, “Fortitude is the virtue to remove any obstacle that keeps the will from following reason.” That last part is important: fortitude–and courage–without reason is not a virtue. And this is how you separate true courage from bravado or foolhardiness.
This is why the anti-mask, anti-vaccine crowd cannot be seen to be courageous or brave in any way. “Do not live in fear!” they cry. But fear does not equate with cowardice. Quite the contrary. Fear, faced by someone who is truly courageous, provokes quite the opposite action. The courageous person does everything they possibly can to overcome the danger. They learn about the danger, understand what can be done to lessen it, and are willing to make personal sacrifices to do so. They are willing to understand the bigger picture, and to work with others to overcome the danger. In this is great courage, and from it, great dignity.
I put this aside for the evening, because I’d been drawn into finishing Unbound. It has been awhile since I felt so drawn in and compelled to finish a book, caught up by its rhythms and language and the desire to see where the story went. I honestly think the last time that happened was nearly three years ago, when I finished Leningrad: Siege and Symphony, the book that pulled me into the deep well of music from which I have no desire to ever emerge. The last book before that was Tigana. Unbound shares with that book the glorious weaving of language and an almost heartbreaking beauty that at some point shatters me, only to sweep up the shards and to remake it into something all the more glorious out of the memory of that shattering.
It is intoxicating, a feeling of being word-drunk, the outlines of the world both sharp and blurred at the same time. It is a journey that compels me on towards the finish, and to then look back at where I have come from and gone through, and what it has given me. That is the truth of a favourite book–each new reading will only ever be a memory of that first time, because you know how it goes, and where, and the turns in the path will have been trod before. It is not so much that way in music, because while there will always be a first time, sometimes it is only in later hearings that a piece reveals its secrets, or shines light on my own, and I come to understand. All the better to stand now and to breathe a long sigh, and to revel just for a moment in memories still fresh.
The plate of cookies has arrived. There is a lemon loaf made surprising by the addition of lavendar, and buttery shortbread that melts on the tongue, and interesting concoctions of dates and nuts with an unusual flavour. There are chocolate and marshmallow Rice Krispie squares, and gingerbread–and not too much of any one thing; just enough to savour.
Christmas cards continue to arrive, a tangible connection to those I miss. There was an episode of The Mandalorian, where a reference to TPS reports made me laugh out loud. There were things accomplished at work to make progress towards goals.
Tonight, my Jewish friends light their first candle. Somehow, that particular holiday feels right for now, for me. I feel a glow of warmth, connection, as if there are still right and good things in this world, and even through it is just one candle, and the oil must last for seven more days, it seems entirely possible that it can and will, if we just hold fast onto those things that mean the most.
It has been many days since I have lit a candle. Once, in September, I thought I could light 114 of them, but settled, in the end, for just a few, and for the large, red, star-shaped one. That’s the one I reached for tonight. There is great music in the universe, and if the echoes of a miracle long ago have come to me tonight, I must sing that tune, although in my own voice, in my own words.