I used to think I knew what strength was. I even used to naively and perhaps arrogantly believe I was strong. I saw the road ahead of me so clearly, how my life would go, what would be next, and what I wanted to do. And then life laughed in my face. Life picked me up with its raging winds and dropped me in the middle of a strange and scary place. Like Dorothy, I was no longer in Kansas. I stood in this brand new place with the eyes of a frightened child. I didn’t know where I was, what I should do, or even where I should go next.
One day, I thought my little boy was healthy. The next day, I found out I had been wrong all along. All of my preconceived notions of strength fell to the floor along with a trail of my tears. I found myself crying and laughing at the same time in a neurosurgeon’s office, overwhelmed by all of these things I felt I needed to know but didn’t really want to know at all. I went through every emotion I never even knew I had. I was angry, filled with a white, hot rage that burned on the inside. I was terrified, frozen in place by fear at times. I was crushed, a hopeless despair that accompanied crying so hard I felt sick. I was all of these things and even more. Not once, did I feel strong. I looked at myself in the mirror and only saw a stranger staring back at me.
People were so sure I was going to stop “all that running” now that my child had this life changing diagnosis and an impending major surgery. I’m not sure why, maybe that would have been the rational response in most people. Clearly, I’ve never been most people. While everyone else still slept, I would quietly shut the front door behind me and take off running for hours at a time. Except I wasn’t just running, I was evolving. I was becoming someone else in this new place. I was becoming stronger from my brokenness.
Before my son’s diagnosis, I saw strength as solid and stoic. Unbreakable and unmovable. It was the refusal to cry at funerals or sad movies. It was the brave face, showing the world nothing could faze them. It was the ability to lock out all of the emotions that could hurt. It turns out, in doing so, that was just locking out all of the emotions that makes you human and able to experience the full spectrum of pain and joy in this world. I never realized that vulnerability could be strong but I’ve come to realize that it is. It’s so much scarier to tell the truth than it is to hide behind a smile. It’s so much harder to feel all of the pain than it is to just ignore it and let it eat away at you. It’s so much braver to admit how afraid you are instead of pretending you aren’t afraid at all. There was a time I wouldn’t have been able to read that, let alone think that, without rolling my eyes.
So what if we all told each other the truth? What if we answered “how are you” with an honest answer? What if we banished the word fine from our vocabulary? What if we said something real out loud? What if we asked others with an intent only to listen and understand? What if we decided to be brave? To be strong? To be authentic? What sort of difference could we make in ourselves? What sort of difference could we make in those around us?
Dig deep and find your strength. Then, be brave and use it.