This quote appears twice in the novel, first in section 1, where Nancy uses the everyman’s phrase to address him as he lies in his grave, just after she has with a child-like bewilderment dropped a clod of earth on his coffin. By extension, Nancy also addresses the crowd of mourners at the everyman’s funeral who are listening and watching her. The second time this appears is in section 13, when the everyman, recovering from having a defibrillator fitted, uses the phrase to calm Nancy. Prior to this moment, the everyman is recalling his relationship with his daughter after his painful divorce from her mother Phoebe, and the injury Nancy sustained as a teenager which put an end to her early successes as a runner. The everyman holds Nancy, telling her these words as she cries over his mortality and her own thwarted hopes for success and the reunification of her family.
The quote itself distills the everyman’s stoic philosophy, and his speaking it to Nancy marks how he is trying to pass on this value to her. The everyman’s advice is to face fears with a kind of upright passive stubbornness, evident in the tension between “hold your ground” and “take it as it comes.” It is a call to go with the flow, but to endure without falling into despair. At the same moment it subtly echoes the advice of the everyman’s father, when he tells the everyman how to face his hernia operation: “Do the work, finish the job, and by tomorrow the whole thing will be over. You hear the bell, you come out fighting.” Both formulations are words that a parent can use to comfort a child without denying the reality of suffering or lying to them about any supposed easiness there might be ahead, though the everyman’s father’s formulation suggests more of an active role in approaching pain, to view it as a form of battle or work to be done.