What it Means to Be Strong

Kaylie Mendoza has been having a rough week. And she has — I know her quite well and she’s been close to giving up several times this week just because.

She wrote this on her blog:

I know a lot of you look up to me, and I am very sorry to let you know that I don’t feel very strong right now. I feel like I am sleepwalking through my life and I don’t have a purpose. I love what I am doing with this blog but I have not wanted to write in it for a few days. I have been feeling emotionally, physically and spiritually weak in the past couple of days. I don’t know how to explain why I feel that way, I just feel like I am disappointing you all. I have been really dragging my feet and questioning myself. I feel like I am dreaming and can’t wake up, like I am in a daze and like I don’t really exist. I feel like I want to have something inspiring to say and I want to force myself to be strong, but honestly I am just forcing myself not to give in to the horrible flashbacks I am having. I have been having these flashbacks for a while. Of things I don’t want to share. I have talked to my trauma counselor about this stuff. Years of my past abuse and humiliation is just basically all coming back at once and I don’t know how to stop it. I stayed up half the night curled into a ball, sobbing, so if you all thought I was strong, sorry but I’m not strong all the time.

I have been going through a lot recently. I am sorry that I am not strong.

I’m not disappointed, because I know just how strong she really is. I know what she lives with, I know what she’s run from, and I know what she is still frightened of. I admire Kaylie. I admire her strength.

Because she is a strong person.

I’m not sure what she expects her strength to look like, however. Maybe she wants to be the kind of person who can tear phone books in half and bend and break things like frying pans and baseball bats. I’m not sure what that kind of strength would accomplish, or bear witness to, but sure, why not?

Or maybe she wants to have the kind of strength that gets out of bed every morning and faces the world with a confident smile. Strength that suppressed and masks and hides feelings, stuffs them way down deep inside her so well she can pretend she is capable and in charge and unbothered by a lifetime of horrible memories.

The first is strength, sure, but the second … I’m not sure what value the second is. Most of the people I meet who live that way have lives illegible even to themselves. And they still feel pain, they just don’t know what to do about it.

There are other kinds of strength.

There is the strength of the rock, which just sits there, slowly worked on by wind and water, slowly carved and formed and shared. But it takes eons to wear away a rock. That is strength, this strength to endure, to not be moved, to bear the burden of all that comes your way. Kaylie has this, more of it than she thinks she does, and that’s no small thing.

And there is the strength of water, which seeks the lowest place, finds whatever way it can to flow, yields to whatever it comes in contacts with. Yet this water, which is so hard to hold in one’s hands, wears away (eventually) even the staunchest and most stubborn rock. This water, when channeled right, can generate enormous amounts of power. Kaylie has this strength too, and more of it than she thinks.

More than anything, I look up to Kaylie not because she has it together, but because she doesn’t. Because it takes a lot of strength, a lot of courage, to say, “I am not strong.” To describe her life so bluntly and so beautifully as she does on her blog.

To live so openly. Especially when she fears so much.

That is strength. That is courage.

Yes, Kaylie, there will be days (maybe many of them) when you cannot get out of bed, when you live in a dreamlike haze, when you curl up and cry and say “I can’t do this anymore.” When the horrors of yesterday cloud over the hope of tomorrow. Merely opening your eyes to face another day can be the greatest strength there is.

Living is strength. Breathing is strength. Your beating heart … is strength.

Never forget that.

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