“Endurance is the essence of courage. Endurance is not passivity, for it requires a strong, proactive spirit. In endurance, man’s inmost and deepest strength reveals itself. It can be harder and entail greater courage for a soldier to be pinned down in a cold, damp foxhole than to charge into a hale of bullets, all flags flying.”
Endurance enables the depth of a man’s character. It is the mortar that holds his virtues in place. In a humorous short story titled “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg,” Mark Twain tells of a righteous but naive little town that is transformed overnight (literally) from a village of model citizens to back-stabbing thieves by the prospect of unclaimed treasure.
Endurance testifies to the depth of a man’s virtue and the nobility of his heart. Twain obliquely describes the superficiality of virtue in form when one’s character does not have the resolve to maintain integrity.
What Courages Is
As Havard delineates above, Endurance is an aspect of Courage. He continues to clarify in his book, Virtuous Leaderhsip, that courage is only possible after the virtues of Prudence and Justice have been exercised to the best of one’s ability.
For example, as Andrew Leatherborrow chronicles in his book on nuclear development, Chernobyl 01:23:40, on the morning the Manhattan Project was preparing for the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in history, one of the lead scientists was taking wagers with observers as to whether the bomb would ignite the atmosphere and destroy Nevada or the whole world. Proceeding with the detonation with these expectations is not an example of courage. It is an example of stupidity (the barest minimum of prudence was not met).
Courage is often described in terms of the instantaneous glory of a bold, self-sacrificing act, but it is specifically in Endurance that a man may discern a path, guided by prudence and justice, and embark on a long, hard, boring, stifling, seemingly-pointless-at-times, frustrating, interminable, but immensely formative journey of resolutely persevering in pursuit of a noble end. The critical point here is that one need not ingest (in the most literal sense) a live grenade to give one’s life in love. Endurance is the everyday, almost imperceptible glory of self-sacrifice that allows a man to truly live in accordance with his highest calling.
Examples of Endurance
There are countless examples of heroic endurance. Most remain unsung. Two examples of more widely known models of endurance are Louis Zamperini, a WWII pilot who survived a plane crash in the Pacific ocean, almost two months adrift on a raft, and then more than two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, and Walter J. Ciszek, an American Jesuit who survived for 23 years in Soviet Russia tending to the spiritual needs of hundreds of peasants despite brutal beatings, torture, and 15 years of hard labor in the infamous Gulag. Both of these men offered their lives day by day in order to bring truth and freedom to countries utterly ravaged by political ideologies.
To develop one’s own endurance, it may be prudent to start small. Make a commitment to some minor but frequent mortification such as skipping creamer in one’s coffee. This will strengthen the muscles of one’s will and allow one to develop endurance by taking on increasingly difficult sacrifices. It may be useful to fortify this effort by absorbing stories of endurance through history. The books on Zamperini and Ciszek are a great place to start. The story of Ernest Shackleton as detailed in Shackelton’s Adventures is also incredible.
The Call to Endurance
As men, we are called to take up our cross and follow Christ. For some, that journey is short. For many of us, living our vocation is a long road that can be eroded by boredom, selfishness and a slew of other temptations. Each virtue will help a man to stay the course. Prudence enables a man to accurately assess the conditions of the road; Justice gives him the love of Truth that will point him towards the Eternal Truth; Endurance will give him the strength to continue placing one foot in front of the other in dutiful service of Christ. Developing the virtue of Endurance through daily mortification and prayer will give us the discipline and resolve follow Him for as far as He leads us.