Ever since my divorce in 2014, I’ve thought about getting another tattoo. But I couldn’t think of anything that really “nailed” what I wanted to convey permanently in art on my skin. Something I could look at every day and say – Yes. That.
Maybe I’m over thinking it. One of my strengths is that I’m good at thinking things through, but the flip side is I think too much. 🙂 But as I approach another birthday, I find myself pensive, as usual. Taking stock, looking back, peeking forward.
And then my friend Joe posed a link to this article/love letter/online dating profile for her husband by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a writer and fellow Chicagoan I adore: You Might Want to Marry My Husband. (Special thanks to my friend Susan for recommending her to me years ago.) I remember reading her witty books when my kids were babies and was heartbroken to learn of her illness. I am in awe of her grace, humility, prose, and beauty. Her strength, even in the midst of a dark time, is touching beyond any words I could muster.
This got me thinking about strength and what it really means to be “strong.” I used to want to be “strong” so badly. I used to think being strong meant being tough – tough talking, tough sounding, tough looking. Don’t be sensitive (except that I am sensitive, so WTF?). I thought it meant I had to “act like a man” in business (don’t even ask me what that looks like because I never could pull it off without looking like a goofball). Don’t laugh. Tough people don’t giggle (impossible!). I read books about ways I could appear stronger (lower your voice, stop over-apologizing, don’t end sentences like a question?).
I thought it meant you didn’t cry. You never, ever asked for help. You never admitted your weaknesses. You were perfect – perfect weight, perfect spouse, perfect employee, perfect parent, perfect friend, perfect grades, perfect smile (I gave up on perfect hair years ago, my hair has a mind of its own). Lots of achievements (which are fine if you are doing it for the right reasons). You don’t make mistakes. You make people happy at all costs. You build up everyone else and leave nothing for yourself, because that’s selfish, and strong people are not selfish because they are strong, dammit, and they don’t need anything. Beating myself up for every perceived failure and weakness. Yeah, I was tough all right. On me.
Man, I had it all wrong. So very wrong.
True strength, I am coming to learn and as Amy reminded me today, comes from a different place. It is having the courage to be yourself in a world that wants you to be anything but. The courage to be your own true North. It is having the humility to say, I need help or I’m struggling or please hold my hand right now, I’m hurting. Strength is having the courage to be vulnerable yet self-protective – and having the wisdom to know the difference. To say, I’m not perfect and that’s okay, I’m not supposed to be. It’s not about a number on the scale. It’s not about how many days a week your work out, what your job title is, how many social “friends” you have. It is having the courage to love yourself, especially on the days when you are not even likable let alone lovable because that is precisely when you need it the most. Trusting that someday, you will find someone who loves the true you just as much. Flaws and all. Perhaps more so because of the flaws. (If someone thinks my flaws are cute, hey, I’ll take it!)
True strength is about facing your issues – and whatever life throws at you – and having the courage to fight, tackle, dismantle, rebuild. You show up, every day, no matter what. Work your ass off to find better ways of being. You cry when you need to and laugh when you can. It’s owning your “stuff” and taking responsibility for your choices even when it’s really, really hard. It takes strong stuff to take a different path, whether you choose it or life imposes it, and try to stay on course as best as you can on any given day. Especially when the path is dark and you lost your flashlight and there’s no cell service for the GPS so you really don’t know where you’ll end up. But you trust. You believe. You go anyway. If you’re a parent, you have little people walking beside you. In light or dark, you must show them the way. The way to be.
It takes strength to start, let alone start over.
You learn to give yourself what you need along the way. You have the humility to say, I will do better today than I did yesterday. That is all I can do. You look back at the narrative of your life and you rewrite it. You learn to see that you were strong. You just didn’t see it. You learn to accept that we are all human, with all that this implies. Somewhere along the way, you see that your weaknesses can be your greatest strengths. And you find the courage to accept yourself just as you are. No matter how hard it may be, knowing in your bones that you are doing the best you can today. And it is enough. You are enough.
I’m heartbroken today for Amy Krause Rosenthal and her family. I’m inspired by her story. She has brought so much light to this world and I’m happy to know that she had a good life. I’m crushed that it will end. I’m grateful to her for reminding me that true strength comes from within and shines a light like no other. I am blinded.
As for my tattoo? The words of wisdom that I want to look at every day? Words to guide and inspire me, remind me of the point of it all? Inspired by Amy’s words:
When I look at these simple words, I want to remember: Be kind. Be curious. Be open yet self-protective. Be present. Be grateful. Be loved. Most of all, this: