For all your days prepare, And meet them ever alike: When you are the anvil, bear— When you are the hammer, strike.Markham wrote here of courage, also known as fortitude, which is one of the four cardinal virtues along with temperance, justice, and prudence. These are the pillars on which all moral good stands.
On a lesser scale, other acts of audacity occur daily. A high school sophomore, palms sweating, invites a girl to the prom. An office administrator approaches her employers and asks for a raise. Again, it’s courage in action.
Markham’s anvil represents a different species of courage, namely fortitude. Hammer courage is a sprint; anvil courage is usually a marathon—the ability to persevere in the face of adversity, sometimes over months and years. It’s the more patient side of courage, often deployed unseen except by a few. The daughter who tends to her ailing mother without complaint, the father who works two jobs to provide for his family, and the kid lying in a hospital bed fighting cancer with a smile and kind words for the nurses: These are but three examples of fortitude and acts of grit and endurance.
Some practice fortitude through sheer willpower, as Rudyard Kipling advised in “If”: “And so hold on when there is nothing in you/Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”
Others of us—I’m one of them—look for reinforcements.
“Come what may”; “Invictus,” which means unconquered; and “This too shall pass” have carried me through some rough patches, and Scarlett O’Hara’s “I’ll think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day” has several times sent me into sleep.
Willpower is a necessary part of fortitude, but some of us possess a will of iron, others a will of bronze. If you’re in this second group, and you find yourself short of fortitude, try these tips or invent your own. Then keep your wits about you and hold fast.