One afternoon in the Haitian countryside, I was sitting in the yard next to a friend’s house watching her scrub her way through a tent-sized pile of laundry and not lifting a finger to help. Because I didn’t feel like it. Getting my hands all dried out from all that bleach they use, and half the time, I rub my cuticles raw and whatever I toss in the rinse bucket, someone pulls out and washes again. I was tired. I ended up staying plopped there most of the afternoon, sitting on the banks of the river of time, watching the laundry move, forgetting to get up.
When I finally did stand up to go, she thanked me for all my help.
I didn’t help you, I said. I didn’t do a thing.
She laughed. Ou bam kouray! she said. You gave me courage. She seemed surprised I could miss something so obvious.
Well, yeah. I guess. What’s harder? Sitting on a low stool and doing laundry by hand all afternoon alone at home, or sitting on a low stool and doing laundry by hand all afternoon with someone to keep you company?
It’s funny to think that your very presence, even when you are at your most dull, contributes a real thing to a situation. Kouray. Courage. You have it for yourself and you have it to lend. Not that it’s something you can bestow, it comes out of you whenever you’re around. And when all your other resources are used up, courage is what keeps you going. Kouray. If you’re feeling like you’re not going to have enough, someone might come and be with you, and give you more. There’s a new wrinkle for all those how many does it take to screw in a lightbulb jokes. How many is too many to come by and give you courage?
Back in the Middle Ages in English, courage was all about the heart. Cour- means heart. As in sacre coeur, Coeur d’Alene, cardiac. In the Middle Ages, the thumping, thumping heart was the engine of the soul inside of a person and courage was the human stuff of that heart. These days our courage is tenacity, valor, backbone, and guts. The only courage we know about is something shown by the extraordinary while the rest of us admire and feel small. I say let’s get the old courage back, the kind that everyone has and can give. Let courage continue to be the word for that curious force inside ourselves that insists on checking out the next minute, and the next. Courage. Curious, contagious, courageous.
On a different note—at least I think it’s a different note—I walked outdoors this morning to see that the first papery orange iridescent summer poppy had popped into bloom. The very inside heart of it is bristly, and violet.