When Congratulations are in Order


“mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” 

SYNONYMS: mettle, spirit, resolution, tenacity = moral or mental strength to resist opposition, danger or hardship. 

COURAGE implies firmness of mind and will in the face of danger or extreme difficulty.

RESOLUTION stresses firm determination to achieve one’s ends. 

TENACITY has implications of stubborn persistence and unwillingness to admit defeat.          (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

“The older we get, the more we become what we’ve always been.” I saw that on a nurse’s bulletin board decades ago, and I have never forgotten it. I don’t know how much it’s true or not. But frankly, I have found myself a bit discouraged about myself as I have been making my way through this virus business. Discouraged because I have long thought myself more resilient, more brave than I have been in these past weeks. Less tenuous and more sturdy. More…courageous, you know?

I love finding out where words have their roots. The root of the word, “courage” comes from Middle English, French and Latin words for “heart.” Corage, curage, quer, coer, cor. The heart, it seems, is the seat, the home of our courage. Who knew?

In these days of physical distancing, our hearts are all over the map: feeling strong and sturdy on those days when we’re ready to go head to head with life. Courageous. Optimistic. Withstanding fear. But feeling limpid and out of rhythm on the days when we’re at sixes and sevens and out of focus. Needing oxygen and a bit of adrenalin. Not courageous. Fearful.

Fear can grip these tender hearts of ours at a moment’s notice and stick around beyond their expiration date. And sometimes, fear looks a lot like anger. As in, a lot. And when anger hangs around beyond its expiration date, we know that it is not healthy for those very same tender hearts.

There are the really courageous hearts, of course, like the ones we find ways to honor. There was a flyover this morning in Rochester and many other cities west and north of here. Two Minnesota National Guard F-16 jets roared through the sky heading north, having passed their gratitude on, honoring those working in the hospitals and clinics in cities large and small. Spectacularly thanking those who have been the very pictures of courage that leave so many of us in awe. My heart felt warmed. And strong for a while.

A few of us are enjoying this time at home, when we can do what we couldn’t do in the old world. Kick back, read a book, cook and bake, sleep in, spend the day in pajamas if we please. The rest of us are a mix of brave and restless.

We can be hard on ourselves when we feel we’re not doing this very difficult virus stuff very well. We don’t need to do that, though. If we look back, we find some seemingly ordinary times when we were actually courageous and didn’t even realize it. When we didn’t name it.

So I thought it might be a good exercise to think about some occasions in which we and our otherwise erratic hearts have been unknowingly courageous.  It could be a very good exercise in how to celebrate and congratulate ourselves. This list is but a beginning…

So here goes! (Pay attention to the words in bold: Merriam-Webster defining words)


  • …you got out of bed when you really wanted to pull the covers over your head and sleep through the day.
  • …you ventured something new whether you had to or not.
  • …you kept going, you persevered in the face of what would have stopped you just a few months ago
  • …you unexpectedly found creativity when you needed to and did something with it.
  • …you let go of anger and took up determination.
  • …you let the pent-up tears flow because brave can arrive in tender new ways and you needed tender. And brave.
  • …you felt the power of a deep compassion for a stranger you might not even have noticed “before.”
  • …you were terrified to do something and you chose to do it anyway.
  • …you found a way to give in a way that you’ve never done before (thinking masks).
  • …you solved a problem by refusing to admit defeat, otherwise known as tenacity.
  • …there was a day when you found your resolve.
  • …there was an hour when you knew you would be okay for today, and you found gratitude again.
  • …you were so exhausted that you thought you couldn’t go on – but you did.
  • …you thought of a new way to create community.
  • …you felt your anxiety rising to a fever pitch, and you took a walk. Or a shower. Or…
  • …you reached out to a friend living alone and found a way to laugh together.
  • …you learned how to Zoom!!!! (that’s for those of us of a “certain age…”)
  • …you took up or renewed a spiritual practice.
  • …you forgave yourself for eating that half-gallon of ice cream…all by yourself!
  • …you paused – and took a deep breath (or 2 or 3) and faced the next hour, or day, or week with even a bit more persistence.

Notice how subtly I wove those synonyms in?

They’re good ones to remind us of the courage that we still have. They still speak of the power of the heart that is filled with courage even when we wonder if we’re running on empty.

Where do you see your courage at work in this new world? Congratulate yourself! You are doing so much better than you may have realized!

We all are. Small things mark our paths just as much as the large ones. Celebrate them all!!

I’m very okay with that!





6 thoughts on “When Congratulations are in Order

  1. That’s a very good point! The thing I have heard most from people (aside from worry over the uncertainty of this whole situation) is that they are disappointed to find out that they weren’t as strong as they thought they were. So I loved how you pointed out all the small and consistent ways we’re strong each day. Courage doesn’t mean we don’t have anxiety or fear….or even frustration or anger. It just means we carry on despite those emotions. Thank you for sharing this!


  2. Thank you so very much for this post! We are living through scary times to be sure. Sometimes, just putting one foot in front of the other is progress! I believe all the little things we do make a difference. And when we cheer up others, we certainly cheer ourselves up as well. Thank you for bringing some gladness to our hearts…


  3. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous, my friend. Nourishing words for the soul from my wise friend. Loved that you included “learning Zoom” in your list of bravery list. Helping our octogenarian parents connect via Zoom, bringing my meditation students onto the platform (many of them older), I’ve been fascinated by how empowering it is on so many levels. The delight and empowerment of “teaching old dogs new tricks” and the connection that ensues. Letting go of the old stories of “I don’t do technology very well.” Thank you!!!


  4. Reading your post at the end of another frustrating day of work, I stopped to reflect on what you were asking. When I got up this morning, I was feeling generalized despair mixed with boredom. I realized that the despair lifted when at certain points in the day, I was able to do something that helped someone or made them smile.


  5. Just as I was reading your post, Martha, I heard airplanes and rushed outside. We’re supposed to have a flyover in honor of essential workers here in the Puget Sound (Seattle-Tacoma) area today. My next door neighbor was also out there scanning the skies, but we didn’t see any planes. Because we’re near what was formerly known as McChord Air Force Base, planes are pretty common. Maybe we’ll get to see them later. Thanks for your lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

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