I am sitting quietly trying to understand the word courage

Bird Droppings February 6, 2015
I am sitting quietly trying to understand the word courage

Recently two movies came out in theatres across the country. One is about a sniper in Iraq and one about a man who was leading the struggle searching for freedom and equality for all mankind. Both men were killed violently in the prime of their lives doing what they thought was right. Both men have been synonymous with the word courage. As I talked with a group of college students last night how ironic is it that a movie about a hero who happens to be a sniper and a hero killed by a sniper came out on the same weekend.

I had been outside earlier taking our huskie out in the wee hours of the morning for some and at 29 degrees it is a cold morning in Georgia one of cooler mornings recently. Stars were scattering as I went out allowing me to for a few minutes to see beyond the haze of clouds. I am sure had I had the dog out he would be running trying to chase the phantom coyote calling midst the pines they get started it seems just before dawn and dusk across the street. A few days ago we were to have another winter storm headed this way and so far all we have had is the cold. I prefer the warnings coming across my cell phone than the real thing most any day. Going back I wrote several days back about courage and looked at several views but it is a complex concept for many and I will wander a bit more through the lexicon and vernaculars of the surrounding current environment.

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

Generally I will bounce from topic to topic and occasionally will tie a few together in some sort of significant way. The past few days emails and discussion have kept me thinking about this word courage. I bought a book a few weeks back at Barnes and Nobles, The Lakota way. It is essentially stories and lessons for living by Joseph M. Marshall III. The book focuses on twelve core qualities crucial to the Lakota way of life which include bravery, fortitude, generosity, wisdom, respect, honor, perseverance, love, humility, sacrifice, truth, and compassion. The word courage was not used although in dictionary terms perhaps bravery is synonymous as I looked up the definition of courage on the internet.

“The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.” http://education.yahoo.com/reference/dictionary/entry/courage

When I first started on this word a few weeks ago discussion went back and forth based on ideas of that this is what courage is and an example or is this courage. I found defining courage soon became a personal thing. What was courageous for one may be craziness for another. I used the example of counting coop among plains tribes and the sacredness of an eagle feather awarded for touching an enemy in battle without a weapon. I received an email yesterday from a friend responding and she wrote about a card sent to her with the following inscription.

“Flying in a circle of beauty, the eagle reminds all Lakota bout the great circle of life, death and life again. To the Lakota, the eagle–with its promise of strength and power–also brings light to the Morning Star. Held in reverence, the eagle’s feathers symbolize everything strong, brave and holy. The feathers are to be worn always with honor, dignity and pride.” A greeting card from St. Joseph’s Indian School, The Eagle and the Lakota People
As I thought for the Lakota a feather earned in battle touching an enemy was sacred yet in our day of modern warfare this would be crazy to most. I have attended several seminars and listened to a good friend and frequent commenter to my thoughts. Thinking back to Wednesday it was a busy day of emailing, meetings, teaching and my quarterly newsletter from my friend.

“Courage is probably like life; if you break it down to define it … you destroy it. Just a note from where I sit.” James D. Sutton, Ed.D., CSP, psychologist and author

I thought about this as I sat listening to the stillness of a cold winter morning the only muffled sounds were the puttering of my old jeep and the crinkling of the hard ground and I slowly moved taking sunrise pictures and a slight breeze rustling the pine needles to my right. Another friend responded as she often does with a story gleaned from her reading and thinking and as I thought about life and courage this story does apply. Courage often is in the sorting and doing of life. I will share this short passage sent by a friend.

When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough – remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee. A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.” The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions—and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you. “Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first—the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.” One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.” Unknown author, Emailed from a good friend Jodie Schmidt

I thought about this simple analogy to life and my current search for answers to the word courage. We all seem to find when the time comes what is courage for us. Courage often is the sorting of what is important in our lives. Deciding this is a golf ball and this is only sand can be a hard choice. I was reflecting back on a problem my son came home with from Georgia Tech several years ago. A diagram was of three molecules touching. They were circles (molecules) or better yet symbolized by circles. There was space between the circles a triangular sort of shape where they did not touch. The problem was solving for that space, to write a formula to calculate the number of molecules that will fill that space. My son worked many hours formulating an answer for a finite space with infinite answer. As I ponder defining courage it is much like solving for that space.

We can in each instance find a solution for our given time and place and yet tomorrow another answer. For the Lakota it is an eagle feather, which is only a bird dropping for some, a left over remnant of a bird passing by and yet to some more precious than gold. I recall a good friend carefully removing an eagle feather from a beaded piece of deer skin he had carefully placed away previously. My friend had received the eagle feather from his grandfather who at that time was the spiritual leader and medicine man for the Muskogee Creek nation and in his nineties. My friend was beading the feather into a special necklace for his grandfather. This was only a little over forty years ago and the feather was handled with great honor and respect. Always lay back on the blessed deer skin never just tossed aside. Always wrapped and carefully placed away when work was stopped.

Looking back at the twelve words from the Lakota all truly intertwine and interconnect. Courage is not a lone word but a weaving in the basket, a piece of the puzzle. Often I fall back to a small prayer sometimes attributed to St. Francis and officially published in a sermon by Reinhold Niebuhr, the serenity prayer when talking about courage.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Occasionally I will borrow stories from a friend and his chicken dairy tales, the adventures and misadventures of his free range chickens in his back yard. Many the stories I can tell about this fellow back to Junior high school. So I borrow again for today another adventure of King Calico and the wisdom to know the difference.

“Then the husky put two and two together, figuring a hot chicken dinner was preferable to a cold bone. He chased a couple birds in earnest, and the rest scattered. Then there was King Calico. Calico faced the hungry animal at a distance. The beast charged. Calico stared down the menace as the space between them narrowed rapidly. But it was no contest. Indoor (probably) dog against the smartest street smart rooster in the world. Calico jumped and flew away. After all, at this twilight of his life, he is not up to a tough fight with some big pooch.” Allan Gold, Chicken Dairies

As I sit here in my class room at school listening to Carlos Nakai on CD and the haunting notes of a Native American flute I close today. Nearly every news broadcast seems to bring more stories of people needing others of people needing people so please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

1 thought on “I am sitting quietly trying to understand the word courage

  1. Your story in your post above reminds me of an old fable I have in my files:

    Once upon a time there was a wise old hermit, a sage, an oracle – who lived in the foothills of a small town. 
    The boys of the town would spend countless hours visiting with the old man listening to his tall tales and his great wisdom. 
    Whenever they had a complex problem, they could count on this old man to give them a wise answer.  They were never able to stump him. 
    This bothered the non-believers in the group and they determined to construct a question that he could not answer. 
    They were watching a bird one day and this gave them the idea. 
    They determined that they would go to the old man with the bird in their hands and ask him this question.
    “What do I have in my hands?” 
    The old man pondered the question and, upon seeing a feather fall to the ground behind the boy replied, “You  have a bird in your hand.” 
    The two youngsters were astounded.  “We would like to ask you another question. 
    Is this bird dead or alive?” 
    If the old man replied that the bird is dead then the boy would  uncouple his hands, release the bird, and the old man would be wrong. 
    And, if the old man replied that the bird was alive then he would crush him and show him to be dead. 
    After a moment of deep thought, the old man replied,
    “Young man, the answer is in your hands.”

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