When I lived in Belgium in my early twenties and adjusted to French language as a way of life, I learned to encourage others with the occasional "bon courage!" -- which meant something like "take heart!" or "chin up!" or "you can do this!"
"Bon courage" was a way to offer encouragement to a fellow student before her part in a performance, or before stepping out into a downpour, or before eating a burger from Le Quick.
As the old year wanes, I've begun reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the first chapters, she poses this question: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
I enjoy the adventuresome feeling that comes with imagining self-discovery as a treasure hunt. It appeals both to my inner monastic and to my inner hobbit (who may in fact be the same person). It also leads me to a host of other questions -- What treasures are those? How do I find them? Will the path be long? Will there be stony patches? Will stars glimmer above even the darkest forests? Are the treasures guarded by a dragon? Will she prove friend or foe in the end?
In a recent phone conversation, I discussed courage with my dear friend Deborah (one of the most courageous people I know). I remarked that what looks like courage on the outside may simply feel like survival on the inside. We talked about how self-honesty can be a face of courage -- the willingness to encounter what is, what really is (even if that thing is very hard; even if it is the most terrible pain you can imagine), and to go from there.
We are so good at concealing our hardship and pain from one another (and sometimes even from ourselves) that we often also conceal the roots of our strength, our capacity for the joy that comes from renewed hope.
What if courage were not only about leaping out into the wild world to meet the dragons out there? What if courage were also built on the self-honesty of naming the dragons we carry within ourselves? And then what? Taming them? Befriending them? Letting them fly free?
I look forward this year to the discovery of new treasure, to meeting new dragons, to finding out what comes next. And so to you, friends old and new and yet-to-be-discovered:
You can do this!
We can do this.
A hearty Bon Courage to you in this New Year.
The D-with-dragon above is a detail from folio 92 of a 12th-century glossed Psalter held in the municipal library of Laon, MS 29.