In his first inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously stated, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

He spoke those words near the high point of unemployment in the United States during the Great Depression. While his words were meant to inspire people facing an immensely challenging period, his statement belies the truth about fear.

In his book “The Anatomy of Courage,” which examined the psychological effects of war on soldiers, Lord Moran wrote, “Fear is the response of the instinct of self-preservation to danger.” In his research, Moran learned that fear could debilitate even the best soldiers, making them incapable of fighting.

He also discovered that courage is not just an ability to act in the face of danger but contains “a moral quality,” which willpower fuels. He concluded that a person “of character in peace is a (person) of courage in war,” and the best way to move beyond fear is through action.

At a time of paralyzing fear, FDR’s statement was meant to spur action. After tropical storm Isaias’ impact and the unrelenting pandemic, many of us have been paralyzed by fear.

In the last six months, who among us has not thought twice about going out to the store? The uncertainty around schools reopening, the rising angst about the upcoming election, worries about treatments and vaccines, and a potential spike in COVID-19 infections have heightened our fears. So many of us losing our electricity for hours or days has only increased our lack of confidence that things will get better.

Our way forward is difficult because fear itself is real and, at times, paralyzing. Yet, instinctively we know our lives must go on, and that risks are present even without the pandemic.

Perhaps like no other time in our lives, we need courage. We will need the courage to return to school, vote in November, receive the vaccine, and keep leaving home even when the dreaded second wave ensues.

However, courage is not unlimited. Lord Moran noted that in the trenches of World War I, “a man’s will power was his capital and he was always spending” and added, “Men wear out in war like clothes.”

We will have days where our courage will be spent and will have to forgive ourselves. But like soldiers who come off the line to rest, we can take days to rest because, like it or not, our courage will have been spent.

Importantly, our moral courage tells us four things. Wearing a mask is an act of self-kindness and shows respect for others. Social distancing is virtuous. Staying home when we don’t feel well is honorable. And going to school, work, or the store takes fortitude and perseverance.

This year has demanded much from us and will likely continue to do so. No other year in our lives will be remembered for humanity’s courage than 2020.

The Rev. Dr. Robert D. Flanagan

Bridgewater