Pen To Print

Thoughtful Tuesdays: Reimagining Our World

By Eithne Cullen

Our Extra pages, this week, look at the theme of ‘Reimagining Our World’ the courage to fire on all cylinders.

There are many sites with inspiring quotations about courage and facing the world bravely. I like this one from Mary Anne Radmacher:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the silent voice at the end of the day that says I will try again tomorrow.

I like the idea of the still, small voice that gets us through from day-to-day.

It seems a little ironic that we’ve been working towards freeing ourselves from COVID restrictions and moving back to some kind of new normality and, suddenly, there are new, firm measures keeping us in an unusual state. I woke up this morning with hands, face, space  in my head; no wonder, when I’ve heard it so much over the last few days!

Without a doubt, we’ve had to be brave for a long time now. We’ve kept a stiff upper lip and bitten the bullet. In fact, we’ve shown a huge amount of Stoicism. I have quoted from the Stoics in ‘Thoughtful Tuesday’ pages in the last few weeks.

So, here’s a chance to pause for a moment and ask ourselves who were the Stoics? What is Stoicism? And please forgive me, I’m not a philosopher, so I’ll be making it simple. I like the explanation from The Daily Stoic which says: “In its rightful place, Stoicism is a tool in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance and wisdom: something one uses to live a great life.”

Stoicism is an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded in Athens. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge. Stoics believed the wise live in harmony with the forces that govern nature. They value certain virtues:

  • Wisdom or Prudence: such as good judgment, perspective and good sense.
  • Justice or Fairness: such as good-heartedness, commitment to community.
  • Courage or Fortitude: such as bravery, perseverance, honesty and confidence.
  • Self-Discipline or Temperance: such as self-control, forgiveness, humility.

Stoic philosophy encourages us to live with nature, focus on what we can control, do the right thing, not be passive, and, here’s a very important one for us nowadays: turn obstacles into opportunities.

It’s no surprise that Stoicism became popular in the 1970s and is still practised by many today.

If by Rudyard Kipling was voted the nation’s favourite poem and it’s one many of us will recognise and know. It’s been used in all kinds of settings and even in some adverts. I like it because it has a rhythm and a strong voice. Most people enjoy the powerful message and sentiments. The main idea of the poem is that the key to a successful life is staying balanced. We should deal with the ups and downs of life without letting them disturb us. We should have the confidence and patience to handle any situation.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream, and not make dreams your master;
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And, which is more, you’ll be a Man, my son!

*****

Artist David Cullen shared some of his art with us a few weeks ago. He has created a comic strip called Eco Smith. Eco Smith is the character who features in the cartoons and is the optimistic voice of all of us who want to do the right thing by the planet and its future.  David shared his comic strip with us this week.

You can see all the episodes of Eco Smith’s adventures and musings on David’s Instagram: @davidcullen_art.

*****

‘Write Next Door’ writer, Roy Merchant, sent me this poem. When I asked him if he had written a poem about bravery or courage, without hesitation, he suggested this one. It tells a lovely story about a time when Roy had to be brave and certainly had to fire on all cylinders. Thanks for sharing, Roy.

Memories Of Childhood

I have so many memories of my childhood,
Each one, so vivid and clear.
They are like giant, but silent Mahoe trees
Dominating the landscapes of my dreams.
Seeing all, and yet so large
They are almost invisible.

The recollections are almost Omni-prescient
Using prophetic words just like a mantic
Referring me back to a distant past
And showing me a far-off future
All at the same time.

And each night I travel back to the forest,
With bamboo leaves on the ground
Cushioning my fall, as the branch
I was hoping to clasp on the way down
Escapes my grasp yet again.
I fall into the eiderdown of the bamboo leaves
And I am safe once more.

In the noon of the day
We go scrumping for mangoes
On the farms, hanging off the sides
Of the Blue Mountain.
Unafraid in our arrogance,
We think no harm can come of us.

The farmer sees us coming yet again,
The fifth time for the week.
He sharpens his machete across the stone
And looks at us in glee.
“Come,” he says with his eyes
“I dare you to come” he stares
Hands akimbo, cutlass blade ready to strike
He hopes our arrogance will cease.

I am sitting at the top of the tree.
And I gauge how far it is to the ground.
I am calculating how many branches I will need to swing on
To avoid his slashing blade.
He spies me in the tree,
He thinks he knows the only thing I can do.
He moves over to where he imagines I will land,
And I busily recalculate.

We stay motionless for an eternity.
Both waiting for the moment to strike.
Me, the nearest branch of the tree
And him, wherever his machete lands.

My young brother and my cousin shouts and run past him,
And his blade swings in their direction.
I know he is now distracted,
And I make my first move to land.
I swing to one branch going East, and he follows.
I catch another bough going West, and he is lost
My last branch still goes West, and he is defeated.
I land, roll forward and run in one all-encompassing move.

The four of us just kept running
Until Church Hill came into view
By now the poor farmer had given up the chase
Paused under a Star Apple tree and smiled
Caught the cool breeze as it bounced off the mountain
Job done for another day.

And these memories keep coming back to me
Reminding me of who I am
I smile as I remember My Jamaica
And like the giant Iroko of my African Ancestors
The Mahoe tree smiles back at me.

(C) Roy Merchant, 2018 

*****

Finally, I hope you’ve been able to get involved with Pen to Print through the events of ReadFest. You may have had the chance to meet some of the Write On! team at the weekend and may have put the readers’ afternoon in your diaries. I’ll be there with a fun book quiz for you. Book events on Eventbrite.

There’s still time to enter our competitions; they are all free and open till 25 September. Visit the competition page to find out how to enter. And if you weren’t feeling brave enough before you read this page, I hope you have the courage to have a go, now.

I’m giving the final word to Nelson Mandela, a man who certainly had the courage to stand up for what he believed and was celebrated for his ability to reimagine the world:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

ReadFest is going Digital this year. Check out our 2020 programme and book your FREE tickets online: https://pentoprint.org/readfest/ 

Click here to read Issue 5 of Write On! magazine

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the silent voice at the end of the day that says I will try again tomorrow.