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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Perseverance: The Courage of a Spider

"Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never."
                         - Churchill
If you've ever seen the movie Braveheart, you know something of Scotland's struggle for independence from King Edward Longshanks in the late 13th and early 14th Century. Here is one of the legends from that era. The next time you are tempted to intone, "If at first you don't succeed, try try again," tell this story instead. Perseverance is one of the qualities that physical courage can activate in us, and we can see it in the tiniest illustrations if we are observant:

Robert the Bruce, true king of Scotland, had tried six times to prevail in battle against the English. Six times he had failed, and now he was on the run, hunted like a wild animal from forest to farm to glen. Desperate, and with faltering hope, he took refuge in a cave while the rain beat steadily outside.

As he gazed with weary eyes through the entryway, he noticed a spider hanging from the ceiling. It was working a web, and seemed to be determined to fasten its next strand to a stone some distance away. It launched itself, swinging through the air, but missed, then patiently climbed back up to the start again, and made another attempt. Robert the Bruce watched, fascinated, while the spider struggled again and again to reach the stone. Six times the spider swung itself through the air, and six times it failed.

"I know what it is to lose six times," the exiled king said to the spider. "My heart goes out to you."

Once more, the spider launched itself with all the force it could muster, and this time gained its prize. "Yes!" the king cheered. "So shall I try a seventh time! I will not give up hope!"

And indeed, he was able to rally an army around himself, and encourage his people with new zeal. This time he prevailed, and drove the English from Scotland at the Battle of Bannockburn.


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