At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine:Proverbs 17:22
But a broken spirit drieth the bones.
This is a proverb with many points of application. It can apply to someone’s personal life, to relationship challenges, and to the broader subject of our culture wars. The applications generally work in the same way, so let’s consider the latter.
One of the besetting sins of conservatives is the sin of shrillness. We love what is being threatened by the various forms of unbelief, and so we react poorly. Our responses are too often the responses of panic, and so we start yelling. We write our comments online with a fisted crayon. If asked about it, we justify our response by pointing out how terrible it would be if the threatened object of our love (e.g. marriage, the Constitution, America) were to be harmed or destroyed. We justify reacting this way because what they are promising to do would be terrible.
When someone goes into battle as a merry warrior, the people who have responded this way are often disconcerted by it. It seems that such a person isn’t taking the situation seriously enough. If he were, then he would be panicked also, right? As Jean Kerr once put it, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.”
But it is also possible that such a one is the only person who is in a position to do something about it. A merry heart does good like medicine. It strengthens. And a broken spirit dries up the bones, which is not what you want in your fighters. There have been times when fighting men have given up all hope, and have fought on in a savage and dull despair. But more often than not, they just go down, or scatter to the four winds in a rout. So say what you will about it, merry warriors are far more formidable. And if the situation really is dire, you want someone who will actually help you out of it, rather than someone who has internalized the need for help, crumpled up his own spirit, dried up his own bones, and who has then curled up in the fetal position.
A merry warrior is someone who takes the situation seriously without taking himself seriously. Daniel Daly was a Marine sergeant in the First World War, and is one of the small handfuls of men who have received the Medal of Honor twice. In the Battle of Belleau Wood, he once yelled at his men before going over the top, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” He died in 1937, many years after the war.
As Chesterton once put it, memorably as usual, “The one perfectly divine thing, the one glimpse of God’s paradise given on earth, is to fight a losing battle—and not lose it.”