Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1926, first used the phrase “grace under pressure.” Often repeated, the phrase is meant to define the meaning of courage or guts.
We live in an age where the word hero is used for everyone from all members of the military to professional athletes to everyone who volunteers for something. And courage is implied in everything associated with the word hero. No doubt there are various types of courage displayed in anyone who faces physical harm.
But there is another form of courage and that is the personal moral kind. Quiet without fanfare or publicity it may be even more profound than the physical. For it is the very notion of grace under pressure.
I had the opportunity to see this latter form last month.
My daughter Katherine married her beloved Ryan.
The day was sunny and warm and matched the gorgeous location. Friends and relatives from both near and far were in attendance. Katherine was radiant, and we both shed a few tears at our “first look” and father / daughter dance.
Long anticipated and planned, it was likely the best day of her life to this point.
Then as life often does, the high of that day was replaced by the extreme low of the next.
Ryan tearfully called me the next day to tell me that Katherine’s beloved Annabelle, her eight and a half year old Aussie, had died the previous morning – the day of her wedding. They had only found out that morning from Ryan’s parents.
Helen and Greg, Ryan’s parents, had decided to take care of Annabelle and Ryan’s dog Oakley so the kids would not have to worry about a dog sitter.
As they prepared to leave for the wedding, Annabelle came up to one of them, looked up and collapsed. Though rushed to a vet, with the assistance of a family friend who had flown in for the wedding and who performed CPR on the way, Annabelle died. (The vet’s suspicion was that she suffered an aneurysm.)
Greg and Helen (and their friend Sharon) faced a crisis. Though devastated by the death of Annabelle, they determined they would not ruin the wedding day of Katherine and Ryan.
They stoically kept it to themselves through a very long day, keeping their grief private for the greater good of all in attendance at the wedding.
There are many tragedies in life – some big some small. And death lurks in the future of all of us and everyone we know. We all face it and other losses through our lives.
But the key thing, it seems to me, is the way in which we deal with all the pain and loss a life lived brings.
Helen, Sharon, and Greg – on a day when so many were happy – displayed grace under pressure in a way I’ve not seen in a long time. For that, and the way they gave Katherine and Ryan their day, they have my eternal admiration.