Be grateful for the struggle – in there we find our strength.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but ‘they’ don’t speak for everyone. In my own case, I have gained much from the worst that life has thrown at me but I don’t believe everyone has the same experience. Often what doesn’t kill you, leaves you mortally wounded.
While I say that I have gained much from that which should have crushed my spirit, there have been times in my life where I have indeed felt broken. Grief was something I struggled with and if I am honest, I handled it badly for many years. In some ways I was lucky to come out the other side.
What that difference is, that thing that makes you or breaks you, is not something I can put my finger on with any fact-based analysis, I can only speculate based on observation. Who you have in your life, that person or people that you can depend on and lean on, is without doubt a key factor? But it’s never just that. One’s own personality is a big element. It certainly was in my case but I won’t call it inner strength, for in those few bad times in my life where things were running away from me, I know I was running on empty. There was nothing strong in my survival. Circumstance and timing, experience and mental muscle memory, there are so many things that are needed to push people through a crisis. What may be minor can turn to tragedy with little more than a nudge. At some point in our lives, we all stand on the edge of a precipice, a step away from disaster.
I believe myself to be fortunate. The many trials I have encountered in life are no more than others, far less I know to be the truth, yet I have indeed encountered challenges that could have broken me irreparably, were it not for that thing I cannot pin down. We each are gifted with a personality at birth, one that gets something spilled on it every now and then, leaving a fresh stain to taint the innocence behind the eyes that first opened to the world as babies. I came with a dark streak of melancholy and I often wonder if on the day I first opened my eyes and looked out upon the world, if through the haze and confusion of birth, my first thought was perhaps a sad one.
That my journey through life is good now, is almost an irrelevance when sadness comes to join me on my walk. Fortunately, I am calmer now than in my youth and having melancholy as my companion is something I have learned to get used to, not something to fear. For many, some of the challenges that come along can be overwhelming. It might be financial burdens, family worries or deeply personal emotional challenges that can overwhelm the strongest of people. We cannot always rely on what we perceive to be strength, when overpowered by grief or other stronger forces.
In the heat of despair there is nothing to drink sometimes and a parched soul can wither. It is all to easy to offer platitudes in such circumstances. Even the most empathetic can feel like they don’t understand you, for it is had to reveal whatever your full secret of despair might be, to even the closest of friends and as such impossible for them to understand. It’s not their fault, nor is it ours. Such is the human condition.
Sometimes we simply break. That feeling, is not a thing to speak lightly of, nor to diminish by saying everything will be fine. We cannot always imagine the light when all we see is darkness. Blundering around unable to see anything in the abyss, light can be unimaginable for some.
These days I think it may be even harder for younger generations. Whenever I have struggled in life, I had a scaffold built through my experiences as a child, to help keep me up. That I had to find toughness even though I had such a soft heart as a little boy, is my own very personal tragedy, but in my own way I was empowered by anguish for much that was to follow, by all that had preceded my transformation from boy to man. What I lost as a boy bolstered me as a man. While I hardly recommend such a training, for such a troubled early life is in of itself a contributory factor to much of my failings in later life, I do know I was at least in some way prepared.
The challenges that young men and women today face, come on the back of a lie in many cases. The lie that you are special, that you are great, that you are a prince or princess without compare is the lie that grows like a giant if not tempered with the truth. We should all be empowered as children to believe in ourselves, but not to believe in ourselves as entitled nor through intuition, righteous.
Humility over hubris, generosity before greed, strength through tenderness, there are things that only experience can teach and then there are things we need to teach our children. The notion that it takes a village to raise a child is very true but can sometimes manifest as our human desire to fit in, to be like everyone else. Being yourself can be hard in such circumstances. Making mistakes can seem like the worst thing you can do and it can crush the spirit of those who feel they can never do right. But failing is nothing more than learning and we need to be thought this and reminded of it constantly, for the human spirit is fragile at times.
Fundamental to surviving the worst of ourselves, is an ability to find a way to avoid the abyss, when it lies before us. We should teach our children well through considered, meaningful dialogue. Without the arsenal of thought and a desire to understand, we as a species are little more than a herd of animals, destined to follow each other off the nearest cliff. Nothing we do is pointless unless we choose to believe that we cannot succeed. Learning to fail with aplomb teaches us to understand the joy of success, the happiness beyond the sorrow, the true meaning of life.
When we throw an imagined blanket of invincibility over our children, we delay their ability to build character and grow through real learning. We are challenged, we are error strewn and we are limited. The challenges we face need to be worked through to gain strength, the mistakes we make teach us lessons, and our limitations show us how we can get better, improve and grow.
Children need love and guidance. We can be there when they fall, but fall they must. We must all walk our own path through life. We all fall at some point, but sometimes; we must get up alone. We save ourselves. My boy-self became a man not through someone holding my hand, but not without it either. It is good to feel the security of another holding you up, but sometimes we must let go and this most important lesson should begin early in life.
I guess I am grateful all too late in life. Being blind when you’ve never seen, means that you don’t truly know what you’ve missed. The older I get, the more I depend on glasses, but the easier I find it to see. Maybe wisdom really does come with age or maybe I’m a slow learner. Whatever comes my way, what the next trial may be, I hope I have learned if not completely, but at least enough, to face it with sufficient strength to get through it and carry on. May it be the same for you. Let me finish with a quote from a far more eloquent Irish writer…
“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” – G.B. Shaw.
While you are here, please check out the links to my writing below: