Courage: life’s highest elegance

One who becomes agitated
sacrifices his mastery (Lao Tsu)

The astute Jane Austen wrote a book called Sense and Sensibility in the early 19th century.  By sense, Austen meant qualities like reason, good judgment, self-control; in contrast, sensibility dealt with feelings, impulsiveness, and passions.

In our own time, I would include under sense that consummate affinity some few people possess as social observer Joseph Epstein wonderfully put it for “unerringly true taste–with perfect manners, easy elegance of dress, an eye for the beautiful in nature and art, a penetrating instinct for judgment of people, and an independent spirit that accepts only those opinions learned in one’s own heart” (Snobbery:  The American Version, p. 81).

I can’t say I’ve met anyone completely encompassing this kind of daily venue of social grace, call it class, fitted seemingly for every season.  I know I’ve always wanted it, but failed miserably pursuing what often has seemed a retreating horizon.  I’d like to know the right wine; sauté like a Chelsea Hotel chef; be up-to-date on timely, important things; be fun, but not silly; empathetic; compassionate; forgiving.  And even more.

But I also ask myself how well does all this pan out when life rears up, hurling impediments across our way, suddenly, unexpectedly, as in contexts of distress or suffering.  In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway famously dubbed such raw courage that defies circumstance as “grace under pressure.”  Musing about this, my memory retrieves just now a photo I had seen somewhere, featuring a rugged Hemingway, his fingers entwined around a rose.

I saw it last night, a beautiful thing, watching on cable a handsome young man with buoyant smile, in a wheelchair, legs severed in Boston’s marathon bombing, throw the first pitch at Fenway to loud cheers, an inspiration.  So young and such transcendence!

I think this is what Hemingway meant in calling such courage grace.  For me, it’s life’s crowned jewel.  Better, its highest elegance.

Be well and do good,


Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

One thought on “Courage: life’s highest elegance”

  1. What drew me to your blog was the wisdom in your “Dodging puddles” post, what made me consider following was the beautiful picture of the countryside on your home page, and what sold me was your Jane Austen reference haha! Looking forward to reading more!


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