What does it mean to be strong?
Images of strength inundate us in advertising and media. Athletes who surpass what was once possible, stories of heroic acts of survival, superhuman efforts in the face of adversity, overcoming insurmountable illness, heartache, and loss; are all examples which take tremendous strength and fortitude.
But who is the strongest?
I have a friend with unimaginable grit, an ultrarunner, competing in 100+ mile races. She has the honor of being the first woman to have doubled (meaning she finished it and then turned around to do it again the other direction) one of the world’s hardest races. It begins in Death Valley, 282 ft below sea level, and ends at the 8K ft portal to Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. It is called Badwater.
To add more challenge to an already mega feat, once she finished the race and before she turned around, she summited the 14,494′ peak of Mt Whitney. When finished, she had run 292 miles over six days. She has unrelenting physical strength and is now fighting for the quality of her life in a battle against MS. The doctors are astonished she is as functional as she is, given her brain’s lesions. By their barometers, she should be in a wheelchair.
Is it the strength of her character or inner determination that has waylaid the lesions in her brain which have typically crippled others?
What is the quality that defines strength?
So what makes one stronger than another?
Many criteria measure strength. It can be broken down into physical, character, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or is it something else, something unmeasurable?
Recently my beloved horse, Steel, took his final breath. But before those closing moments, he fought, with the heart I knew him to process. The veterinarian at the hospital in the late hours of the night said there wasn’t any hope; it was time to put him down. I called my vet, who had known Steel for most of his life, to confirm the decision. Once off the phone, the vet at the hospital reconsidered her opinion once she understood Steel was an accomplished and fierce competitor. Her evaluation changed on how to proceed. She said, “Let’s give him time to see if he can fight through it.”
Steel was tough as nails. Although we did lose the battle, he surrendered on his own terms. Like humans, horses can be tough or they can be drama queens.
Again, what is the quality that defines strength?
Is it elemental?
Is it ethereal?
Or is it an inner power?
Monks can sit in meditation for days on end. Is that inner conviction a strength, which many do not hold?
Is it the size of the muscles that makes one strong? Jockeys have the reputation as, pound for pound, being the strongest athlete. Bodybuilders look strong and can lift massive weight yet may lack stamina or flexibility.
If one is weak in one area of their lives, does that make them less strong? I knew a cowboy who appeared tough but would faint when he saw blood. Or a successful businessman who is phobically afraid of heights.
True strength is not measurable until tested. Those who do not appear capable may rise to the call when faced with the ultimate trial. Each of us possesses personal kryptonite that illuminates our weakness. So, perhaps what defines the marker for measurement is not determinable at all.
Strength has many faces that cannot be categorized or predicted
Strength has many faces that cannot be categorized nor predicted.
Real strength can be doing what others may feel is abhorrent. Standing up for the underdog or showing compassion even for those who have wronged us.
It can be defined by reaching around to a place of softness and acceptance when fury rages inside, instead of the easier route of hardening our soul; yielding to the pliability of acceptance rather than the rigidity of unwavering judgment.
It can be seen when smiling in the face of adversity or shaking off the disappointment to stand up again, swallowing our pride while acknowledging defeat.
Other evidence that one possesses that unquantifiable quality is our convictions’ strength, announcing that the Emperor has no clothes when others stand mute to the truth.
It is also the ability to keep going, one step at a time against the wind, up the mountain, or into the darkness of our soul. Knowing stopping is not an option, yet putting aside our own needs to reach out a hand to help another.
We will never comprehend our own strength until we are pressed
We will never comprehend our own strength until we are pressed. It is unknowable and undefinable. It cannot be seen on the surface. We can suppose and assume, yet until we overcome our inner battles, stepping forward to do the right thing with deep moral integrity, will we know our measure.
The bravado some wear may prove contrary to their actions. Still, unless we can look into another’s soul and understand what they have experienced, we cannot judge how they will respond. History has proven it is often the unexpected one that digs the deepest.
We all possess undying strength. Sometimes it is the hidden power of the softest touch or the gentlest voice that affects the most difference. The many faces of strength may surprise us.
How strong are you?
“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength” ~ Oprah Winfrey
HMU: Joanna Wood