Coeur

And then last night I read Rollo May, in The Courage to Create:

The word courage comes from the same stem as the French word coeur, meaning “heart.” Thus just as one’s heart, by pumping blood to one’s arms, legs, and brain enables all the other physical organs to function, so courage makes possible all the psychological virtues. Without courage other values wither away into mere facsimiles of virtue.

And:

I propose a new form of courage of the body: the use of the body not for the development of musclemen, but for the cultivation of sensitivity. This will mean the development of the capacity to listen with the body. It will be, as Nietszche remarked, a learning to think with the body. It will be a valuing of the body as the means of empathy with others, as expression of the self as a thing of beauty and as a rich source of pleasure.

Well, then, Rollo May. I will not leave my pewter box outside the green metal door of my office as planned. I will hold it in my lap under the conference table. It will warm my hands.

My eldest has a rubber bracelet of the Lance Armstrong type. She chose it out of the toy basket at the dentist, woozy with nitrous after undergoing the filling of a cavity in her molar. COURAGE, it says. Last week she asks me from the backseat, “What is courage?”

“Being brave,” I tell her.

“What’s being brave?”

“It’s doing something even though you’re scared to do it.”

Minutes later, from the backseat, “What’s being brave, again?”

I give examples. The first day of kindergarten. The first time you tried the monkey bars. Going to the dentist. To each of these, she replies, “But I wasn’t afraid then.”

Maybe we invent brave. Maybe there is only ever afraid or not afraid.

And who is Rollo May, anyway? Only a man like all the rest. Where do we get off writing slim books about how to live? And by we I mean they, those who have? He. At least he was in his sixties by the time he wrote this. A man in his thirties or forties acting so wise, I don’t think I’d countenance anymore. Still, he loses points with me by not placing a footnote in that “listen with the body” paragraph. Footnote: Women have been doing this for ages and ages. It was their idea; I’m just writing it down with the voice of masculine authority.

I am 37 and realizing that asking wondering questions has become a habit, now no less inauthentic than reflexive credulity. I am 37 and experiencing the first glimmer of irrelevance, in the form of wise friends nearby having babies and living in all their complexity the weeks and months that still seem so close to me but are so many years past now that I am letting go the hope of deciphering them. I am 37 (oh dear, I think I am 37, maybe it’s 38), and people my age are giving advice. I am a year older than Natalie Goldberg was when she wrote Writing Down the Bones. It’s time to start the habit of stating. It’s time to let the habit of questions wane.

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