Fortitude: The Other Face of Courage

Staying the course is the key to everyday valor.
Fortitude: The Other Face of Courage
(Fei Meng)
Jeff Minick
Edwin Markham’s poem “Preparedness” is short, blunt, and wise:
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.
To be a hammer, to strike, is courage in action. It involves risk and immediacy. In World War I, Alvin York charged a German machine gun nest and captured 132 enemy soldiers almost singlehandedly. In 2003, under attack near Baghdad, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith organized his troops, ferociously fought the enemy, and died while allowing many wounded men to escape alive. These wartime deeds are examples of hammer courage.
 (Fei Meng)
(Fei Meng)

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.

Lean on confidantes. If we’re facing an ordeal and have even one person, a friend or a family member, whom we trust and who wants the best for us, we’ve redoubled our own strength. We’ve got what boxers call a cornerman, a coach who will tend our wounds and give us advice. Here, too, an old cheer from high school basketball games comes to mind, “You can do it, you can do it, you can!” We all need boosters when we’re picking our way through some dark wood of life.
Sleep and respite are vital. Fatigue saps morale, and low morale cripples fortitude. All the caregivers I’ve ever known needed a breather from their round-the-clock duties helping a family member—a nap, a game of tennis with friends, even a trip to the grocery store. I’ve also found, like many people, that exhaustion magnifies my troubles, causing me to focus on problems rather than solutions. Often even a quick nap will make the impossible seem doable again.
Force yourself to stay positive. When you’re the anvil and the blows are raining down on you, it’s tempting to beat yourself up or indulge in self-pity. Resist that temptation. Instead, give yourself pep talks. Sometimes, even a simple mantra frequently repeated will bolster your spirits.

“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.

Semper fortis.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust On Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning As I Go” and “Movies Make The Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va.
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