The Gauntlet

ShipOfFools_web_10042015How do you get through your day?

Too often we want to hide from our mornings seeing them as simply another challenge of running the gauntlet—running between lines of vicious people anxious to strike us with whips or sticks as we run, walk, or crawl between them.[1]

Too often we want to pull the covers over our heads and reach out only to grab the television remote or another handful of bonbons.

Too often we simply lack the energy or desire just to be.

How do you get through your day?

I posed this question to people that I run into every day. Maria, an aquatics director at the pool where I swim opined: “When I hit a rough patch, I look to what comes next. I am always looking ahead to the next item in my schedule.” David, a chaplain who works with emergency responders, sees prayer, family support, and being mindful of the presence and contribution of others as important in getting through the day. Suzanne, an hospice nurse and American Buddhist, meditates throughout the day and keeps moving with a diet rich in fruit. Amy and Edwin look beyond circumstances—the call—to find strength to meet the day’s challenges. Edwin, a pastor, asks: “can I offer witness even when I mess up?”

Let me turn to each of these perspectives as they each provide insight into getting through the day.

Maria’s Perspective. One way we get through the day is to rely on habits to structure our time and keep us focused on positive activities. Habits like getting up, taking a shower, having daily devotions, exercising, going to work, eating meals, and going to bed at the same time each day are routine. Things that, for most of us, our mothers encouraged us to do and we accepted them without question.

It is no accident that boarding schools, military organizations, and religious orders all prescribe disciplined daily routines. These routines give meaning to life, promote healthy lifestyles, and build esprit de corps—feelings of pride, community, and group loyalty. Good habits can be reinforced by positive choices in clothing, grooming, and musical affinities.

The classic example of a meaningful life through structure is the monastic life. In the fifth century, Benedict of Nursia (2009) wrote a book outlining rules to govern the disciplined life of monks in his order. Benedict’s rule specified all aspects of monastic life—meals, work, living space, worship, but the focus of his rule was on daily prayer (the breviary) which was held every 3 hours day and night.[2] Interestingly, the discipline established in Europe’s monasteries in the Middle Ages led to the later development of universities and modern institutions, such as the corporation, military organizations, and hospitals.

David and Suzanne’s Perspective. In working as a chaplain, I practiced self-care through constant prayer and things like eating properly and regular exercise. Religious music and faith symbols also provided comfort while walking with people in pain. For many people, the music of our youth—most often religious music—reminds us of a time in life when we enjoyed the uncomplicated warmth and security of family.

Musical reminders—not just religious music—can bring real healing. For example, when working as a chaplain in an Alzheimer’s unit, I met an older man, James, who used to wander up and down the halls all day muttering to himself—he spoke nothing but gibberish. One day I invited James to hear a jazz saxophonist play—he was delighted. While the nurses resisted my taking him, when the music started he stood up, began dancing to the music, and invited several women to join him. More importantly, he began speaking in complete sentences and offered real conversation: the music helped him center and he remained cogent for several weeks.

Amy and Edwin’s Perspective. For many of us, getting through the day means accepting the morning gauntlet as part of our calling and identity.

A gauntlet story figured prominently in the Battle of Balaclava, fought on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War. British cavalry were mistakenly sent to attack a heavily defended Russian gun position at the east end of North valley. Both sides of the valley, the Causeway Heights to the south and the Fedioukine Heights to the north, were well defended. As the attack unfolded, senior officers realized the orders were mistaken and, believing the attack would fail, they withheld reinforcements. The advance cavalry unit, known as the Light Brigade, galloped down the valley alone prosecuting the attack in spite of cannon fire from three sides, punishing losses, and no support from the remainder of their division. Overtaking the Russian position at the end of the valley to everyone’s surprise, the Light Brigade had to turn and fight their way back out, as other Russian units worked to surround them. Of the 666 taking part in the charge, 110 were killed, 129 wounded, and 32 taken prisoner.[3]

A poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called—The Charge of the Light Brigade—recorded the battle with these words:[4]

 

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so well

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.[5]

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a military disaster, but it became a symbol of gallantry for generations of young men.

In closing, the next time you lack energy in the morning and want to pull the covers over your head, remember the charge of the Light Brigade and the day that the gauntlet gave up the glory.

 

References

Benedict of Nursia (Saint). 2009. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (Orig pub 547). Translated by Boniface Verheyen (1949), OSB of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas (Kindle Edition).

Wynne, John J. 2013. The Jesuit Martyrs of North America (Orig Pub 1925 by Universal Knowledge Foundation). Literary Licensing, LLC

 

[1] Self-pity is a horrible thing. Running the gauntlet was the fate of an early Jesuit missionary, Isaac Jogues, in 1641 to the Mohawk, Heron, and Iroquois peoples of New York and Canada who was later canonized as one of the first saints in North America (Wynne 2013, 163).

[2] Matins (12 midnight), Lauds (3 a.m.), Prime (6 a.m.), Terce (9 a.m.), Sext (12 noon), None (3 p.m.), Vespers (6 p.m.), and Compline (9 p.m.).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Balaclava.

[4] The Charge of the Light Brigade is also the subject of a 1936 Warner Brothers film starring Erol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland directed by Michael Curtiz.

[5] Some hear echoes of Psalm 23 in stanza five. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174586.

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