Published in The Ferndale Record, January 26, 2011
Recently someone referred to me as “strong.”
Strong, hmm. Let’s see. Could I lift a Buick off of a toddler? Can I bench press 350 pounds? I possess a fair amount of physical strength, but that’s not the kind she meant and I knew it.
Her comment rattled me a bit because I don’t think of myself that way. Most of the time I don’t feel strong at all. Lately, I resemble an emotional mush akin to Cream of Wheat, subscribing to the Homer Simpson school of thought that if I just hide under a pile of coats, everything will somehow turn out all right.
When someone makes it through challenging, shattering times, others think they’re strong. If that’s true, then everyone is stronger than they suspect they are—usually proven in the furnace of scorching personal circumstance. We often don’t see it in ourselves, but onlookers do.
Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is exhibiting unimaginable strength in the days since her shooting. My neighbor in her 90s shows strength just waking up and facing every day when maybe it would be easier not to.
Jacqueline Kennedy was the symbol of strength for a nation in November of 1963, and a friend of mine who just lost a child says out loud how much it hurts and then slowly pushes through the pain.
We all want to be that person, the one that makes it, the hero that beats the odds and takes names. But triumph over the perceived adversity isn’t what creates strength. It’s the way we respond to whatever it is we’re experiencing. It’s in the day to day, the moving forward, the keeping on.
For some, faith in a higher power is the impetus, for others it’s dogged determination, or the fiery rebellion that comes from being told something is impossible.
Maybe the most excellent wish of our hearts, though, is not the opportunity to crow in confidence, and look good at the finish line, but simply survive the ordeal, and if we’re lucky, learn what was meant to be learned and use that mortar to piece together more bricks of character, integrity, and usefulness to someone else.
For every story cited about strength and determination, there are thousands more never heard. That’s the resilience and beauty of humanity.
Often, those with evil motives seem strong, too. But false heart is what we see, and personal gain is the ultimate goal. Their supposed strength is shown for what it really is and they end up in hiding, exile, or worse.
Most of us will face the chance to be stronger than we ever thought we could. It probably won’t come wrapped like we imagined, and it will push us to the limits of our capability, and then some.
But in the end we are in good company. We don’t need to share a spotlight because we are all in it. If we’ve ever drawn breath, we’ve had to endure something that makes us stronger and usually, we end up smarter and more compassionate than we were to begin with.
And that’s not all bad.