Monday, August 19, 2013


Here I am in Boston, a city with which we all felt some affinity after the marathon bombings, as its citizens bonded together under the declaration "Boston Strong" and we all felt buoyed by their optimism, fortitude, and generosity to one another.  Boston Strong tee shirts are ubiquitous here among residents--I see several on my daily meanderings.

And in the situation and setting I am in, there are many references to and I think a lot about strength.

I mentioned to my sister yesterday that I feel this dichotomy inside.  On the one hand, I am someone others consider strong enough to lead a high school.  On the other hand, this experience with a sick baby and living far away from family has exposed my greatest vulnerability.  I've been weepy, unsure, insecure, worried, anxious, and fearful, even when all signs point in positive directions.  Am I these two  personae--both capable and fragile?

My sister lives with a son who is in a consistently delicate medical state with his central line.  She and her husband count on semi-monthly emergency room visits when my nephew is ill or there are problems with the line or tube sites.  We are all in awe of her pragmatism and positivity.  On our walk to the harbor yesterday, though, she described having some of the very same irrational thoughts (overwhelming fear of mortality and worries about her children swimming, riding in cars, getting hurt in general) I have found invade my mind and threaten to affect my general outlook.

I go through the mental exercise of counting my blessings and imagining and appreciating those who are experiencing different, more life-threatening hardships.  I wonder what it means to be "strong."  I wonder about that oft-heard saying that God gives you what you can handle--a suggestion that some of us are built for--and then somehow deserving--of tougher times?  I don't subscribe to that philosophy.  Instead, I search for the learning in the journey (and as my sister eloquently articulated it as she described a particularly difficult time in their family, "we looked for the message").  What do I know about myself now?  What do I better understand about the people around me, about what others are experiencing and what others give and say and use to cope?  What do I know about life that I didn't see or imagine before?

Tootsie is tough, I've felt, since her birth when she emerged squawking and alert, to her relatively quick recovery from her serious infection.  But the babies here who succumb, are they less strong, less determined?  Big Sis is still struggling to understand why our cat couldn't recover from her injuries to live, and in turn I struggle to explain why she would leave us.  Why it might appear our kitty couldn't fight anymore.  I want my daughter to see the strength in knowing that it's time.  There's no rubric for strength applicable to all scenarios which doesn't suggest a kind of comparison, a hierarchy of fortitude.

At home our niece, my daughters' cousin, is caring for her mother, Husband's sister, as she suffers from brain cancer.  Our niece has lost her father already, and in her tender twenties and as an only child, she prepares to say goodbye to her mother, too.  This beloved and admirable niece is the same one who managed Husband's mother's hospice care two Christmases ago.  She is a hero in our family.  And not only for what she's endured--for who she is.

I think of her as having indomitable strength, but with that characterization comes the subtle pressure that suggests she shouldn't waver from her resolute and realistic care and decision-making on behalf of her mother.  That she can't break down and feel helpless and wonder why why why.  I'm thinking differently about strength, now.  I'm thinking it's the staying of the course, the resigned travel down the path which includes breakdowns and meltdowns and steps backward and forward.  The genuine acknowledgement that there are surges of hope and depths of despair.  We are all strong for facing our challenges, then.

I want to share part of our niece's story with you, in her own words.

What do you know about strength, from yourself and others?  When have you faced your most vulnerable self?

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