Recently, I ran across a quotation from Muriel Spark on the subject of growing old:
”Being over 70 is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”
Spark reminded me of a blog post I have intended to write for a long time (see above headline). But first, I wanted to be sure I know the difference between courage and bravery which most of us – me too and even some dictionaries – use interchangeably.
Fortunately, there is a respectable website called DifferenceBetween and I'm going to quote at length their explanation of the difference between courage and bravery. Added emphasis is mine:
”Bravery is the ability to confront pain, danger or attempts of intimidation without any feeling of fear. It is strength in character that allows a person to always be seemingly bigger than the crisis, whether he is indeed more powerful or is lesser than what he is tackled with.
“Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the eminent and unavoidable presence of fear. More than a quality, it is a state of mind driven by a cause that makes the struggle all worth it.
“Unlike in the case of bravery, a person fueled by courage may feel inevitably small in the face of peril, pain or problems. The essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what one is faced with, but rather is the willful choice to fight regardless of the consequences.”
So the basic difference is that bravery involves no feeling of fear in the face of danger and courage is the will to keep going in the face of fear.
Certainly there must be elders who bravely keep on truckin' without fear as the years pile up. I am not one of them. It is in quiet moments alone and in the dark of night sometimes, when I can't sleep, that I am fully aware of the disasters that can befall me.
Fully aware even when pretending that none of them will happen to me.
Fully aware even when recalling that actor Bette Davis was speaking from first-hand knowledge when she said, “Old age ain't no place for sissies.”
In 1983, Ms. Davis underwent a double mastectomy for breast cancer and two weeks later suffered four strokes followed soon by a broken hip – three of the most common scourges of old age crammed into one year.
There was a long period of recovery but Ms. Davis worked her way back to make several more films before she died in 1989 at age 81. The epitaph on her tombstone reads, "She did it the hard way.”
No kidding. And so do a lot of old people. Actually, I suspect that one way or another, we all do it the hard way:
Weathering the kind of loneliness Muriel Spark speaks of when too many old friends have died and there is no one left who knew you when you were young.
Of the medical horrors like those of Bette Davis. Not everyone comes back as far as she did but so many are surprisingly resilient in making do with limitations.
The drip, drip, drip of declining strength and energy in old, old age. Nevertheless, elders accommodate and keep going. I've known and continue to know many.
The bone-deep sadness (not to mention exhaustion) of caregivers watching spouses decline while they still find things to laugh about.
Approaching the end of our days wondering so much more seriously than when we were younger, what comes afterward. Hurray, I suppose, to those who are convinced of life ever after.
Those who are not convinced are left to contemplate oblivion.
There is courage in just walking around when you know that every year, one-third of people 65 and older fall and 20 percent who suffer a hip fracture die within a year. Remember when a fall meant a bruise or at worse, a broken bone that would heal quickly? No elder can count on that anymore.
Old age requires that elders become aware, as much as possible, of the catastrophes that can befall them and they do that with amazing good cheer most of the time as they arrive closer each day to the inevitable and only outcome life grants us.
All old people are amazingly brave and courageous, and none get enough credit for it.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: The Advertising Lesson