Fear and courage: Choosing Courage

On a day when we wake to fearful news
A time where fear and hate seem to spread throughout the land
We remember too that this is a precious day
Today is another day we had the privilege to draw breath and awaken.
Today, we can find joy. We can make new connections. 
We can use our love to counter hatred
We can courageously challenge the growth of fear
But every day we awaken is a day of promise.
Let this flame shed a light for gratitude
A light that strengthens our commitment
Our courage
And our love
 
 


Readings

 

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter One
I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost . . . I am helpless. It isn’t my fault . . .  It takes forever to find a way out.
 
Chapter Two
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
 
Chapter Three
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall . . . it’s a habit . . . but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
 
Chapter Four
I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
 
Chapter Five
I walk down another street.
 

 

Reading - Gamblers All by Charles Bukowski

sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think,
I'm not going to make it, but you laugh inside
remembering all the times you've felt that way, and
you walk to the bathroom, do your toilet, see that face
in the mirror, oh my oh my oh my, but you comb your hair anyway,
get into your street clothes, feed the cats, fetch the
newspaper of horror, place it on the coffee table, kiss your
wife goodbye, and then you are backing the car out into life itself,
like millions of others you enter the arena once more. 
 
you are on the freeway threading through traffic now,
moving both towards something and towards nothing at all as you punch
the radio on and get Mozart, which is something, and you will somehow
get through the slow days and the busy days and the dull
days and the hateful days and the rare days, all both so delightful
and so disappointing because
we are all so alike and so different. 
 
you find the turn-off, drive through the most dangerous
part of town, feel momentarily wonderful as Mozart works
his way into your brain and slides down along your bones and
out through your shoes. 
 
it's been a tough fight worth fighting
as we all drive along
betting on another day.
 


Message by Marta Pacini

Thank you very much, Andy, for giving me the opportunity to deliver the message today.

I would like to invite you all to take part in an experiment. Don’t worry, it’s nothing scary.

Just take a deep breath. Relax. If you feel comfortable, you can close your eyes.

I’d like you to imagine that you are in a supermarket. You have run out of food, and you want to restock your cupboards. You are buying big sacks of potatoes, flour, pasta and rice. Family-sized cartons of juice and huge bottles of milk. Heavy stuff.

You have just paid and are wondering how on Earth you are going to take all this stuff home. You lent your car to your best friend for her holiday. The supermarket has no delivery slots left.

There’s a bus strike. You’re going to have to lug all this stuff home by yourself, on foot.
You look at the six bulging plastic bags that you have managed to acquire. You take a deep breath. You prepare yourself for the task.

Slowly, you grab three bags with each hand and lift them. One step. Two steps. My, they’re heavy. Another step.

You start to sweat. Your arms ache. You wonder why your home seems so much further away from the shop than it has ever done before.

You drag your feet further, and further still. Your arms are killing you by now. You feel like giving up, but you know that you can’t just abandon your stuff in the middle of the road. You have to carry it home.

Finally, your home appears in the distance. You feel elated. You’re nearly there!

You drag your feet faster now, faster and faster, until you’re almost running with your six bags of shopping.

You get to the front door, scramble for your keys, and finally, finally, you’re inside.

You run into the kitchen and put your bags down. You flex your muscles and take a deep breath.

You open the first bag to put your shopping away. And that’s when you realise what happened.
The six bags of shopping you carried home were not yours, but someone else’s. They contain food for a hamster you don’t have. Sacks of compost for a garden you never tend to. Big stuff. Heavy stuff.

There is no food in those bags. You have no food in your house.

You are going to have to go back to the shop and carry your bags, your actual shopping, home again. All that big, heavy stuff. The potatoes and the flour and the milk.

You head out again.

You can open your eyes now.

How did that feel. Can I have a show of hands?

How many of you feel exhausted by now?

How many of you feel sad or angry?

What happened to you is pretty much what happened to Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was a man in Greek mythology who made the gods angry because he was arrogant.
So when he died, Zeus gave him a really nasty punishment.

Sisyphus had to push a massive, really heavy rock all the way up a mountain. When he got to the top of the mountain, the rock would tumble down again, and all his effort would be wasted.
Sisyphus then had to go back down the mountain and push the rock up again. And when he got to the top of the mountain, the rock would tumble down again.And Sisyphus then had to go back down again, and push the rock up again, and again and again for all eternity.

Sounds pretty nasty, right?

Well, that’s not what the writer Albert Camus says.For Camus, every time that Sisyphus walks down the mountain, he faces a choice. He can give up on his task, or he can try again.
And every time he tries again, he defies the gods. He becomes the master of his own destiny. He becomes free.

When Andy put out a call for volunteers to deliver messages on “fear and courage”, I thought I’d put myself forward because I know quite a bit about fear. I have no claim to be the unluckiest or the least fortunate person in the world, or even in this congregation. I don’t think that kind of comparison would be useful, anyway.

But I know for sure that fear and I are old acquaintances.

I am twenty-four years old, and for half of my life I have been battling against the horrible demons that are depression and anxiety. If you do the maths you will realise that that means my battle started when I was only twelve. It may even have started earlier than that. I can't say for sure. During my relatively short life I have been in and out of depressive episodes more times than I can count.

In fact, the latest depressive episode started just after I began working on this message!
Some of these episodes lasted for so long that I’m completely unable to distinguish where one ended and the next one began.

I remember my boyfriend when I was fifteen, my first love, asking me in a tone of utter confusion why on Earth it was that I cried all the time. I remember my mother asking me what was wrong and what she could do to help me, and I remember repeating over and over again that I did not know. I did not know. And most of all, I remember thinking that I was going mad. And that I would never be happy again.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this. It’s not to ask for your pity or your commiseration.

It’s because depression and anxiety are terrifying.

When you feel like whatever you do, you will never be able to crawl out of that deep hole, or stop your heart racing, and your brain thinking thoughts that you never, ever wanted it to think, well, let me tell you, that’s scary.

But here’s the thing: I’m still here. At twice the age I was when it all started, I’m still here.

Through the gloomiest thoughts and the crudest pain, I’m still here.

Despite the countless times I thought I wouldn’t make it, I’m still here.

And it’s no magic. It’s no miracle.

It’s a choice.

When even getting out of bed seem like an impossible task, courage stops being a luxury and becomes the only attitude towards life that will keep you going.

When the stone of life keeps rolling back to the bottom of the mountain, you face a choice.
You can give up, or you can defy the gods and try again.

Every time I got dressed and stepped outside even though my depression was pulling me down with all its might, I defied the gods.

I chose courage.

And you can do that too.

Like Portia Nelson in her “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters”, you can learn to walk around the hole, and even, in time, to walk down a different street entirely.

Like Bukowski reminds us, sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning and you think “I'm not going to make it”, but you carry on, you do your toilet, you feed the cats, and you make it anyway.

Last night at least two people were killed and over twenty injured in what have been called terrorist attacks on London Bridge and in Borough market. As you probably all know, these attacks follow the one in Manchester only last week and an earlier one on Westminster Bridge.
Although we don’t know much about the perpetrators of these latest attacks yet, it’s possible that one of the motives behind the attacks was to make us Londoners, us Britons, feel scared.
And as Andy reminded us in his message just last week, it’s likely that the people who are trying to scare us are themselves acting out of fear.

Feeling scared is easy. It’s a very natural, instinctive response to danger, whether that danger be real or only perceived.

But if right now you feel scared, I invite you to think back to all the times when, in Bukowski’s words, “you made it anyway”.

Every time you drag yourself out of bed when it’s still dark outside and your energy levels have never been so low, you make it anyway.

When you stay up late to finish folding the laundry, or to listen to a friend who really needs you, you make it anyway.

That time you had to go to work even though you’d just received the worst news of your life, you made it anyway.

So, we can do it. We can defy the gods.

When life drags us back to the foot of the mountain, we have the power to choose to climb back up and try again. We can choose courage. You’ve all done it many times before.
You wouldn’t have lasted this long if you hadn’t. You can do it again.

So, choose courage. When life drags you down, choose courage.

When you’re desperate and hurt, choose courage.

When you feel scared and hopeless, still, choose courage.

You have done it before. You can do it again.

We can do it again.

And then we shall be free.

May it be so.