5 Things Strong People Do in Tough Times
“Let me not die while I am still alive.” – Unknown
After I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post, a moving tribute to her late husband, I thought of another strong woman, my mother.
My mother has lost nearly all her family - her mom, dad, two brothers and an infant son. It was early in her marriage when my brother died, and it happened while my father was away on a tour of duty.
My brother’s death, she got to mourn. But with her other family members, she didn’t. I watched her placed her grief into tiny packets, doling them out sparingly, and then only to be swallowed quickly.
I often wonder if the process of grieving and healing is a luxury for the middle class and the wealthy. My mother’s work did not permit her time off much less to buy a plane ticket that would allow her to fly to the other side of the world and attend their funerals. Whatever void their death left in her life, she tried to fill it up with work and devotion to her husband and four children.
My mother wasn’t one to talk about the process of grieving and healing. I don’t think she even knows what that means. She simply learned to live through the pain.
Some people can take a beating and call themselves survivors. But it takes a very special person to be a survivor and say to the world that tries to beat her down, “Thank you for this experience. You have made me into finer stuff.” And then to see herself rise and rise again, in an upward spiral of her personal evolution.
I celebrate men and women like my mother, and with great privilege, I offer up these personal observations. Here are five things strong people do in tough times and perhaps every day.
Don’t Make it Personal. Strong people accept that whatever happens to them is often times not personal. The universe is not out to get them. They didn’t draw the short straw. Shit happens. And they just happened to step in that giant pile of poo. So they deal with it in the best way they know how, and if they can’t, they…
Get Off the Island. No person is an island. Strong people know when to ask for help. They recognize the difference between pride and strength. The people who have a tough time asking for help are prideful and mistaken it for strength. Asking for help is not the same as asking to be rescued. A rescue is used by a person of learned helplessness for things she can do for herself that she is asking repeatedly of others. This brings us to…
Build up Your Self-Reliance. Your circumstances may feel overwhelming, even emasculating or degrading, but as Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl has shown us all, the human spirit is unconquerable. When it comes to choosing your attitude, you have absolute power.
Be Real. That may mean being vulnerable. My child’s memory of my brother’s death was that of a small gathering of women creating a circle around my grieving mother. They acted like a beautiful strong spider web of support, there to allow her to fall to pieces, and when ready, help her piece herself back together.
This makes me think of Rumi’s poem, “Zero Circle.”
“Be helpless. Dumbfounded…then a stretcher from grace will come to scoop us up.”
When Rumi said, “be helpless,” I interpret that to mean: be vulnerable, be yielding, be open.
Christians speak of it in terms of surrendering to Christ. But if it is more comfortable for you, you can choose to think of it as having faith in the goodness of others. And when you choose this mindset, this is what you shall receive in return:
“When we have totally surrendered to that beauty, we shall be a mighty kindness.”
Suffering softens us then it makes us stronger.
Give Joy the Best Seat at Your Table. When my mother went through difficult periods in her life, she would take up crocheting and gardening. In other words, she searched out beauty. When I went through a deep loss of my own, I followed her example and planted a rose garden. I binged watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” I picked out a cozy spot in a busy café and listened to laughter and music all around me.
No matter how deep and dark your sadness and loss – your capability for joy is deeper still.
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