Friday, December 18, 2015

What Must Be Endured

A major theme woven throughout Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is accepting fate. In interviews, he has explained that he thought about how these fantasy epics, tend to all follow a certain chain of events: some farm boy is told, hey, guess what, prophecy says you're the hero of ages, and the fellow pretty much says, oh, okay then, and goes on.

The authors says he doesn't think it would go that way -- in his mind, this guy is more likely to say, Oh really? Let me buy you a drink and you can tell me some more -- then slip out the back while the stranger is occupied.

Still, time after time, throughout the series, the same sentiment crops up: What must be endured, can be endured.

Now, obviously, we in the real world have a handful of phrases and sayings that are similar: God won't give you more than you can handle, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger, and the Serenity Prayer, with its bit about 'accepting what cannot be changed' to name a few.

And it goes without saying that, like any little piece of enduring wisdom, they don't encompass the full complexity of reality. People are given more than they can handle, and they die of it. What doesn't kill you sometimes leaves you too weak to handle what does. And even when one has the wisdom to know what one cannot change, sometimes trying to change it anyway is important.

Still, like any sound bite, they are't intended to tell the whole story of life. They're meant to encourage through a hard piece.

As that goes, I really love that all these characters, from their diverse backgrounds, all have such a similar saying for the same thing, and it's something I need right now. I've got some stuff coming up that I'm scared of, and I need the reassurance that getting through it is a thing that will happen. I've been reading and re-reading scenes where Egwene goes through the ter'angreal and must repeatedly have the strength to walk through the arch again, and where Elayne faces trials as the Daughter Heir and Egwene finds the backbone to tell the Wise Ones she lied and then to stand up to the Aes Sedai and refuse to be a puppet -- all this strength. All this enduring. Egwene's strength showing both when she stands up straight before the Aes Sedai, and when she lies on the floor, gripping the ankles of a Wise One, crying and meeting her toh. Strong in both positions.

And I decided to compile a list of the times a character speaks or think some variation on 'What must be endured, can be endured.' It won't be a complete list because I'm actually using the word 'endure' in my Kindle's search function, and I know there are incidences of the phrase using, instead, the word 'borne,' and probably other variations as well.

Even just with the word 'endured' though, there are an amazing number. Here they go. Material in block quotes is all credited to Robert Jordan. The books Brandon Sanderson completed do not seem to hold the phrase, though they do carry the sentiment, so no quotes from those are below.

1. New Spring, Lan.
Lan is laughing (yes, for real) about a guard falling asleep on a boring watch.

He seldom laughed, and it was a fool thing to laugh over, but laughter was better than worrying about what he could not change, such as weary men drowsing on guard. As well worry about death. What could not be changed must be endured.
Comparing worry over trivial things to worrying about death is particularly poignant from a man whose motto says that death is lighter than a feather and duty heavier than a mountain.

2. New Spring, Siuan Sanche

Siuan is telling Moiraine to chill, basically.

"You worry too much," Suian said gently. "My father used to say, 'Change what you can if it needs changing, but learn to live with what you can't change.' You'll only get a sick stomach, otherwise. That was me, not my father."

There aren't exactly a lot of sayings from Suian that don't involve fishing or boats, yet even in her world, we see that this is an enduring attitude. In fact, that brings us to

3. New Spring, White Tower

Moiraine nodded. The Tower taught it's students to live with what they could not change, too. But some things were important enough to try even if you were sure to fail.

Whoa! Isn't that what I said back up there a ways? That's another kind of strength. You may have to endure what you can't change, but you don't have to endure it without a fight.

With that firm foundation, the saying doesn't crop up again so directly until book 6. You can still see the theme in a number of situations, but the next actual occurrence is a while off.

4. Lord of Chaos, Elayne

Elayne is in Salidar. It's hot, and pretty miserable all around. She and the others have gotten used to independence on their travels, and suddenly they're back to being treated like children again, obeying orders instead of giving them. The furniture is broken, and the rooms are certainly nothing like the luxury in which Elayne grew up. An old saying from her childhood nurse firms her resolve to keep marching forward.

No complaining, she told herself firmly. Aes Sedai lived a little better, novices and servants a little worse, and Gareth Bryne's soldiers slept on the ground most often. What can't be changed must b endured. Lini used to say that all the time.

Lini has a lot of great sayings, and a lot of them amount to 'woman up and deal with it.' I might like to compile those later (though I'm sure that's been done somewhere) and talk about them, but for now, she's said the same thing as so many others, in the same words.

5. Lord of Chaos, Rand

Lews Therin is there, in Rand's head. He can't be shaken loose. Not that Rand isn't still trying, sometimes, to silence him, but at other times, he's starting to accept that this voice is something he has to deal with, for now.

Lews Therin laughed maniacally. It did not bother Rand as much as it once had. Not quite as much. What had to be endured, could be.

Again, important, because Rand's struggle with Lews Therin Telemon is not over, but he still accepts that for now, it's a thing to deal with, not to give up over, or to struggle aimlessly against.

6. A Crown of Swords, Perrin

Being treated as a lord is one of the biggest struggles for Perrin. Really. He can crawl in a wolf skin and run around, cleave trollocs in two with his axe, and face a battle he expects to be certain death, but when it comes to being called Lord Perrin, he wants to snap. Sometimes he does. Other times, though, he has a more important goal, and he doesn't waste energy fighting the inevitable. Like now -- he's trying to hold together an army of people who don't like each other very much, and he's just thinking how he'd rather be somewhere that nobody calls him 'lord' when a young man brings him his horse, and calls him "Lord Perrin." Perrin's angry glare causes the man to take a step back.

Perrin made a soothing gesture Not Kenly's fault. What could not be mended had to be endured.
7. Winter's Heart, Faile

This whole story line is especially apt -- it's Faile being careful not to seem like a flight risk, which kind of means, faking meek and sweet, until her opportunity comes for escape from the Shaido. At this particular moment, she's considering a full-fledged attack, but knows the timing is wrong. Instead, she endures being spanked and slapped for speaking to the other captives.

The man had her knives tucked behind his belt. If she could lay hands on just one....! No. What must be endured, could be endured. She intended to escape, not make useless gestures.

8. Winter's Heart, Cadsuane

This is about where I am right now in my current read-through.

Cadsuane is annoyed at Nynaeve for shortcomings including a lack of self control.

And she had not been put through the lessons that what must be endured, could be endured. In truth, Cadsuane sympathized with her. Somewhat. It was a lesson not everyone could learn in the tower

 9. Knife of Dreams, Romanda Cassin

Romanda is irritated at her tentmates, and remembering the selection of Aes Sedai for Sitter of the Hall in Salidar. She's remembering the events, including the necessity of actually more or less campaigning for a seat herself -- when she had been a sitter back in the White Tower. That lack of power, the crowding in her tent, her tentmates' mess -- they're all adding up to an annoyance.

Well, it was done, and that was that. What could not be cured must be endured.

The Gathering Storm has no actual incidences of the saying itself, though there are some excellent scenes that bear out the sentiment. Egwene is back in the Tower, and being beaten regularly to make her break, but she refuses to say she's just an Accepted. She takes everything they dish out, and stands after as though she's bestowing a favor upon her punisher. She refuses to break -- and it's clear that taking the beatings isn't breaking, submitting, or giving in.

The last two books do have scenes where the characters pull through difficult things, but no more that I think belong in this list. (Subject to change as I continue my current read-through.)

So, in 15 books, we have the phrase 9 times, counting only those that use the word 'endure. We get it from the uncrowned king of the Malkieri and a powerful warrior. We see it from a girl who grew up on fishing boats. It's an important lesson in the White Tower, a place that holds some of the greatest power in the world. A lesson taught to the Daughter Heir of Andor at the knee of her nurse. A lesson without which the man who will break and save the world might not survive to fulfill prophecy. A rule a strong man must implement in human interaction. A saying to still the hand of a captive warrior until the timing is right. Something even the Wisdom has to learn. Important in politics.

And not just the phrase -- the sentiment is woven into ji'e'toh, the driving force of a society that raises the fiercest warriors known to man. They say it a little differently -- one does what must be done, and accepts the consequences.

It's woven into every life, from warriors to peasants to queens: What must be endured, can be endured.

And if Egwene can bare herself for a beating to meet her toh, and Faile can stand naked in the snow while she waits to reach her dagger, and Rand can live with another man trying to control his body, and Aviendha can lay down her spears, and Perrin can accept that other people see you the way they see you no matter what.....well, hell, I can get through this little old bitty thing. What must be endured, can be endured. Which isn't to say I should go meekly -- I can still stand up for myself and how I want this all to go. But however it does go, I can get through it.