Essayist, novelist, gardener and Harvard professor Jamaica Kincaid agreed over dinner one evening to write about courage, in celebration of Martin Luther King. Thank you Jamaica. You are inspiring, generous and courageous. — Charla
Just to say the word itself brings to mind someone who has done something that is regarded as difficult certainly, and unimaginable because it has never been done by anyone before, it threatens their very existence.
Courage, to have it, to embrace it, is so grand that we quickly domesticate it and make it everyday: we tell a child to be courageous and sleep in a dark room all alone and not be afraid of the emptiness that cannot be seen, the silence that sometimes is only sleep itself; we say it took courage to leave a perfectly good job that we somehow no longer find fulfilling and go and do something else that we imagine will bring us true happiness; and all this might be so, all this might be courage, for certainly a child coming face to face with the darkness that is childhood and surviving it and not losing her mind is courageous.
But, it seems to me, real Courage has a capital C, it is something big and grand and it is not known in a present form, it is only known looking at it afterwards, after the thing it is associated with begins to recede into memory and then looking back at it, we do so with awe.
The courageous person and the courageous deed are not known to each other, they are not destined to meet.
Deed and Person, Person and Deed may pass each other in the day or in the night and have no clue that they could share a destiny. But from time to time they do meet, and unknown to each other, they become one: ordinary in everyday human existence, the person becomes extraordinary in taking an action, in performing a deed that needed performing, and so Deed and person become one, creating that thing called Courage.
The courageous person does not know that she is Courageous. Caught up in immediate events, trying hard to survive the events that has given rise in her to act with courage, she is not aware that her actions are extraordinary; she is aware that she is in danger, she is aware of fear, she might even be aware of her own demise and erasure from human memory, but she is unable to do anything, except to take those actions which later, after the crisis has passed, will lead others to regard her as courageous.
She will feel that she was without choice, that there was no other way open to her but to take those actions that are judged in the aftermath as courageous. In looking back, for her, there was no other way.
We, who are not she, know this to be not correct, because we, ourselves, are evidence of this other way, we could not do what she has done, we did not meet the courageous person in our own selves and so our own selves could not then have found the deed
Courage is not an attribute of Power. It is in the face of Power that Courage becomes needed.
Power waxes and wanes: it waxes when Courage is absent, it wanes when Courage exists, it almost vanishes when Courage exists in abundance.
Today is a Day when we remember a man who exemplifies Courage and who for a short time in his life was the embodiment of that noble idea. We remember him with love and are deeply grateful for the love he showed for us and gave to us.
Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Many thanks to Jamaica Kincaid, essayist, novelist, gardener and Harvard professor. Photo: Russell MacMasters