Endurance is a virtue.
While “patience,” rightly, gets this treatment fairly often, let’s admit patience is often not possible. Sometimes – usually, even – we feel impatient with whatever awful we are going through. Or feel worse feelings than impatience, right down to despair.
This is why I want to take a moment to advocate for endurance – because endurance does not come with the baggage of often-impossible “supposed to” feelings. It doesn’t say that while everything is hellish you don’t, or shouldn’t, feel like hell, or like you are in hell.
It says: okay, this is hell – hang the fuck on anyway.
Endurance is an underpraised quality, a partner to frequently-misunderstood courage. Courage is sometimes wrongly painted as a synonym for “fearlessness.” Fearlessness is not courage – it is either the absence of any cause for fear, or likely a serious glitch in the nervous system of a person in the presence of a threat.
Courage is often, accurately summed up as “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” That is why courage is something laudable, something extraordinary. I have no fear of toast, or that the toaster is going to do me harm. There is nothing courageous about me making toast, because I fearlessly make toast.
If doing what I believe is right is likely going to result in some harm to me, or will require that I continue to experience something that is already harmful, painful, difficult, and those are things I fear, and I act according to my principles anyway, then I act courageously.
It is the presence of fear that makes an act courageous, that makes courage remarkable.
Endurance is living in the bad, the painful, the harmful, the frightening, the difficult – maybe sometimes feeling courageous, maybe not (though I would argue it is possible to be courageous without feeling or thinking of yourself as courageous – just as it is possible to be a person behaving decently, or behaving cruelly, or many other things, without necessarily being aware of the truth, or while denying the truth), and not giving up.
Endurance is pretty much always possible. Even when you cannot see an end to what is troubling you. Even when what you feel (putting aside for the moment whether or not your feelings are an accurate representation of the quality of your actions) is weak, or despairing, or defeated.
Endurance, while you are feeling whatever awful it is that you feel, is a show of strength. Strength is what is required to accomplish what is difficult – and when you have been hurt, when you are suffering, when you feel – or are – alone with your pain, when your energy has been sapped by huge and/or prolonged challenges, doing anything at all can be enormously difficult. Doing anything at all, in such a state, is a show of strength.
Including simply carrying on.
Give yourself due credit for the strength required to endure your difficulties, even on the days where you just don’t have the energy to take any constructive action, or where you can’t see what constructive actions you might take, or when there are simply none you can take. (Those additional obstacles mean your endurance is a sign of greater strength being exercised than in their absence, not less.)
I am not advocating denying your own agency, your ability to act, but there is some shit you really can’t – in the proper meaning of “can’t,” as in, actually not possible, rather than difficult, or not desired – do anything about.
Like when you are rejected, or a feeling is not reciprocated, or you regret something you have done, or when you lose someone you care about, whether because they walked away, or you did because their behavior was harmful or dangerous, or because they died. You cannot make someone feel something they don’t, you cannot make someone else’s choices for them, you can’t change someone else’s behaviors, you can’t change the past, and you can’t resurrect the dead.
You also cannot wish away grief, or make it end by trying to suppress it.
In my experience, the only feelings we can fully shut off for any prolonged period of time are some of the positive ones, usually as a side-effect of trying to shut off the ones we wish to mute, the painful feelings, which can only be turned down slightly – and which also prolongs them indefinitely.
And what we bury inside of ourselves, we carry with us everywhere.
We can’t leave what is in our own minds behind us, much as we might wish we could. And our internal burial grounds are straight out of “Pet Sematary” – that shit does not stay dead and buried, and if we won’t dig it up and deal with it, what inevitably claws its way out tends to be a much uglier, more destructive form than what went in.
You don’t have to see some deeper meaning in the moment in order to endure. You don’t have to know “the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” or have a reason to go on, in order to endure. You don’t even have to be able to pull yourself out of bed today to endure. You just have to keep drawing breath, keep doing the bare minimum to keep your body alive. And that, for some, on some days, in some circumstances, can be in itself something so difficult it requires enormous strength to accomplish.
Given enough time, bad feelings not buried, but felt and expressed, tend to abate. Given enough time, your odds are better that some unexpected, helpful person or idea or opportunity will show up. Given enough time, you are likely to do some healing, to gradually gain in energy to act, and maybe even feel hope.
It is okay if you can’t conjure a picture of what any of that might look like. It is okay if you can’t imagine a reason to hang on – because you don’t need any of that in order to hang on. You can hang on anyway. I know this from much and long and awful experience in my own life – you can endure through all kinds of hell, without any clue of how or when or if you will ever know anything else, without any conscious reason why you are hanging on in the midst of misery.
Unconsciously, at least, I think we all want to know, to live, to feel, something else, something better, something good, even if we do not allow ourselves to believe it might be possible for ourselves. And somewhere, however deeply buried it may be, I think all of us know we deserve things not merely to be better, but we deserve things that are good. (If we didn’t, I don’t imagine we would suffer in the absence of those things.) And the only way we might ever get there, to the possible-better, to the deserved-good, when our now sucks all kinds of ass, is to give ourselves more time, is to live to see the future, when none of us knows what might happen.
The future is always uncertain, is all possibilities, including some good ones.
Endurance is a virtue.
Please don’t give up.
Hang the fuck on.