Saturday, November 8, 2008

Piglet is my hero

Thanks to the inspiration I get from reading blogger Carole McDonnell, this month seems to be taken up with some delightfully heady subjects. No wimpy posts about how cute the puppy is or how majestic my cat looks when posed regally on the window sill. No, no. I'm taking on the seven virtues and the seven deadly sins. Yikes. Plus I am accepting suggestions for topics. Let's keep with the heavy lifting, too. No wimpy stuff! I am enjoying this workout more than I imagined I might.

Courage and Fortitude are matched together as a single virtue, at least according to the folks at Wikipedia. And since this is a blog and not an academic paper, that's all the research I've got the time to do. And since time is short before my midnight deadline, I shall use Courage as my sole topic, presuming that you can figure out that fortitude is pretty much the same thing.

Courage is best exhibited in modern literature by the diminutive character of Piglet in A.A. Milne's classic collection of children's stories involving Christopher Robin and Whinnie-the-Pooh. I use this as an example not because it is an original, because it is not, but because it uses very popular characters from a widely known work. The te of Piglet is a marvelous book about Taoist principles written by Benjamin Hoff. He uses Piglet to illustrate bravery.

So anyway, back to courage and fortitude.

Everyone remembers Piglet from the story in which he and Pooh meet a Heffalump. Piglet's response to that scary situation was far from anything that could be considered courageous.

"Help, help," cried Piglet, "a Heffalump, a Horrible Heffalump!" and he scampered off as hard as he could, still crying out, "Help, help, a Herrible Hoffalump! Hoff, Hoff, a Hellible Horralump! Holl, Holl, a Hoffable Hollerump!" And he didn't stop crying and scampering until he got to Christopher Robin's house.

"Whatever's the matter, Piglet?" said Christopher Robin, who was just getting up.

"Heff" said Piglet, breathing so had that he could hardly speak, "A Heff -- a Heff -- a Heffalump."

Yeah, our little pink friend was not so courageous at all when confronted by the terrifying spectacle of his best friend with a honey jar jammed on his head.

For some reason, more people remember that scene than remember the scene in which Owl's house is blown down and the door is blocked shut. Owl cannot open it, but Piglet is small enough to fit through the letterbox. Pooh and Owl devise a plan in which Piglet is lifted by a string to the letterbox and thus sent to go get help in the form of Christopher Robin.

"It won't break," whispered Pooh comfortingly, "because you're a Small Animal, and I'll stand underneath, and if you save us all, it will be a Very Grand Thing to talk about afterwards, and perhaps I'll make up a Song, and people will say 'It was so grand what Piglet did that a Respetful Pooh Song was made about it!'"

Piglet felt much better after this, and when everything was ready, and he found himself slowly going up to the ceiling he was so proud that he would have called out "Look at Me!" if he hadn't been afraid that Pooh and Owl would let go of their end of the string and look up at him.

"Up we go!" said Pooh cheerfully.

"The ascent is proceeding as expected," said Owl helpfully. Soon it was over. Piglet opened the letter-box and climbed in. Then, having untied himself, he began to squeeze into the slit, through which in the old days when front doors were front doors, many an unexpected letter that WOL had written to himself, had come slipping.

He squeezed and he squoze, and then with one squuze, he was out. Happy and excited he turned round to squeak a last message to the prisoners.

"It's all right," he called through the letter-box. "Your tree is blown right over, Owl, and there's a branch across the door, but Christopher Robin and I can move it, and we'll bring a rope for Pooh, and I'll go and tell him now, and I can climb down quite easily, I mean it's dangerous but I can do it all right, and Christopher Robin and I will be back in about half-an-hour. Good-bye, Pooh!" And without waiting to hear "Good-bye, and thank you, Piglet," he was off.

Piglet's reluctance is very important to the illustration of courage. He is afraid of what is being asked of him. He is frightened by many things, and when you are a very small animal, that makes sense. Courage is not a lack of fear, but having the strength to overcome that fear and forge ahead in spite of it. Piglet is frightened, but with a little encouragement, he is able to step up and do what he must.

Courage is what soldiers exhibit when they are terrified but charge up a hill anyway.

Courage is what is exhibited when someone tells a bully to back off.

Courage is what is exhibited when people voice unpopular opinions, not by shouting but by speaking gently and persuasively.

Courage is what was exhibited by Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk and so many more.

Courage (or damn foolishness) is what I exhibited when I started that queer student group back in college in a county with more registered handguns than democrats.

Courage is what my friend S. exhibits when she asks difficult questions of crooked politicians, suspected criminals, and town clerks of all stripes.

Courage is what my friend M. exhibits when he advocates for mental health consumers to organizations that he must work with and get support from every day.

Courage is what my friend S. does as an educator for queer issues in a university in a rural state.

Courage is what L. exhibits as she explores the options available to her in combating and living with her degenerative spine disease. One of those options is a pretty scary surgery.

Courage is what teachers exhibit every day when they go to work, often in dangerous schools with not enough money, substandard facilities, and distracted, hungry kids, and they manage to get them to learn anyway.

Courage is what my aunt exhibits when she stands up to her parish priest, who is also her boss, and tells him that the gay joke he just told was hurtful and wrong.

Having courage does not mean that we lack fear or that we are so full of ourselves that we can impose our will upon our surroundings. Courage comes from fighting long odds and when the likelihood that you'll pay some price is high, but fighting anyway.

Many of us perform small and large acts of bravery every day.

Let us appreciate those acts more often.

Blessed be.


Robin said...

Great post!

A wonderful quote about courage showed up on my homepage a few days ago, I wish I'd thought to copy it down.

Stickthulhu said...

Good post and good literary and real examples. I always liked John Wayne's, "Courgage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway".

Re: fortitude, I see them as closely aligned but not one in the same. I think courage can be born of fortitude, and fortitude aids courage, but does not necessarily equate. I can have the courage to face a physically and mentally stressful situation, but not the fortitude to make it through. It does not lessen the courage it took to face it. That being said, I still interchange them often.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I've never read any Pooh, so I'm not familiar with the stories. But I agree with the definition of courage here. Courage is moving forward despite fear. This is something the boys and I talk about often, and I think they're starting to "get it."