How do you define strength?
Is it the ability to lift hundreds of pounds? The endurance to withstand the harshest living conditions? The will to keep pushing forward against all odds?
I imagine that most of you agree with at least one of those definitions.
My definition of strength is the willingness to endure and continue onward, regardless of how the situation looks and feels. It doesn’t take will power, muscles or even fortitude. It simply takes the ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other, ignoring the terrain, and never stopping.
People tell me that I am strong. They comment on how well I am handling widowhood, the ranch, the business, the jobs, the bills, the chores…the list is endless. They ask me how I do it and I answer with a question of my own: Do I have a choice?
I’m finding that it is absolutely amazing how strong someone can be when there is no other option. I am strong because I have no choice. Someone has to work to earn a paycheck, someone has to do all of the chores that used to be shared, someone has to pay bills, go shopping, handle the everyday crisis that is inevitable within any household. I am that someone because I am the only one left.
I can no longer lie in bed and be pampered by my husband when I am sick or hurting or exhausted. Because he is not here and life continues. And that means that I must get up and accomplish certain daily tasks that need to be done. The four footed furry brigade needs to be fed. I am now the only income earner so that must be earned. Someone has to stumble to the kitchen for a glass of water or soup or whatever I need, and no matter how badly I feel, I am that someone.
Once every six weeks I need to have a medical treatment that pretty much knocks me off my feet for 3 days. My husband took over everything during that time, now I have to do it. And I do. I get up and deal with whatever needs to be done, maybe a little slower and not quite steady on my feet, but I do it. It’s not because I am stronger than anyone else, or braver…although I would stake my stubborn streak against anyone else’s…but I do it because I have no other choice.
Is it unfair? Yes.
Is it what I want? No.
It is what it is…so I must deal with it.
And that is what strength is, to me.
It’s doing the improbable and sometimes the impossible because that is all we have left to do.
If you looked around at the people you see during the day, you are probably seeing unbelievable strength without even being aware of it.
The single mom at the grocery store with her kids, exhausted after working all day, but still has the strength to smile and listen when her 4 year old gabbles excitably about something he just saw.
The 70 year old veteran standing patiently in line, leaning on his cane, proudly wearing a ball cap with the name of the war that he fought in and survived. He smiles and teases the clerk, despite the fact that he still has nightmares 50 years later of horrors unimaginable.
The teenager walking down the street, singing and dancing to his iPod, loving the moment, happy in the fact that he just survived another day of high school bullies and not caring what others think about him.
The young man bagging groceries and then running to his second job, trying to earn money enough to keep his young family fed and still falling short each month but determined to keep going.
The woman sitting in the park, smiling, closing her eyes and lifting her face up to feel the warmth of the sun, knowing that her days are numbered due to a cancer there is no cure for.
The list goes on and on and on.
I firmly believe that everyone is capable of great strength. They just have to have the willingness to use it.
Oh sure, any one of us could simply lay down and give up. Decide that life is not worth living and use one of the numerous socially accepted methods to end it. And maybe eventually one of those people I just mentioned will do so. But I can’t.
Despite the fact that there are times when I just want to curl up on the fetal position and drown in my puddle of despair and depression, there’s still a part of me that wants to fight, to keep going and that part is much louder than the sobbing, sad little part that wants to give up.
Giving up is not an option for me.
Someone once told me that to overcome my inborn social ineptness, I needed to ‘fake it until I make it’. Meaning that if I pretend to fit in, if I fake feeling confident and secure, that eventually I will become so. So I try that. It doesn’t always work and there are still often times when I am speaking with a group of people and I am absolutely astonished that people actually listened to anything that came out of my mouth. And yes, I still say stupid things that are awkward and unintelligible. And yes, I am still astounded when someone says that I am their friend even though we've known each other for years because I still, underneath, don't feel worth enough, but I still try. Mainly because my husband pushed me to do so while we were together and it has become an ingrained habit. I am still hopeful that one day I will feel confident and secure, but that's a topic for another post on a later date.
So I pretend that I am calm, cool and collected. I pretend that I am enjoying the moment. I pretend that I can handle what life throws at me and I pretend that I am okay. Except that there is a big lump of pain and anguish lodged in my chest, so real that I can physically feel it. And that big lump is a part of me constantly crying out that I hate this existence without my husband. It cries out that I want him back and I hate this life where he is not here. And that big lump never goes away and never gets smaller. But I keep pretending.
There are times when my pretense is shattered and I have to leave suddenly from wherever I am and find someplace isolated to have a good sob. And then there are times when I actually feel that the pretense may have edged a little over into reality. Just barely…but it’s still there, very faint, but tangible.
It’s almost as if my pretense is creating a thin layer around that lump, allowing me a tiny bit of relief. Enabling me to push it aside for just a little while until something causes it to crash back into place. I am ever hopeful that layer will get thicker and thicker as time goes on, but regardless I will keep pretending.
And that is what I mean by strength being the willingness to endure and continue onward. Because basically there are only two ways to deal with what life throws at you. Work with it to overcome it, or leave it altogether. And the second part has never been an option for me…so once again:
I am strong because I have no other choice.