Being Strong

I had a strange realization, recently.

It was after meeting a friend for chocolate. There is a famous chocolate shop in Boston called Burdick’s. That’s where we met, and when I say for chocolate, I mean to drink chocolate, or eat any one of the chocolate items that Burdick’s carries. In my case, it’s a chocolate orange hazelnut cake that is one of my favorite foods in the world. My friend is one of those delicate, graceful women who look as though they wandered out of a fairy tale. She told me about the things that had happened recently in her life, which included death threats because of some things she had written. She had handled them as she seems to handle everything: gracefully, with strength and resilience. And I thought, wait, there’s a pattern here.

The strongest people I know are delicate, graceful women who look as though they wandered out of a fairy tale. (Yes, I know a number of these. I suppose it’s being a fantasy writer, because they are all writers and artists of the fantastic.) They post about finding pink taffeta dresses in second-hand clothing stores, and have overcome incredibly difficult childhoods. They have become famous writers, scholars with international reputations. They have created magnificent lives for themselves, despite opposition, sometimes illness.

They remind me of ballerinas, who look so delicate and graceful. And yet, when you get close to them, you realize they are all muscle. They are a combination of will and art. So the pictures I’ve chosen for today are Degas ballerinas.

Ballerina 1

We live in a world where physical strength is and will always be useful. Yet it seems to me that these women are stronger, in their own way, than the six-foot tall, two-hundred-pound men I know, and I know a few of those, too. (Sorry, guys.) Their strength is in not knowing when to give up. Giving up never seems to occur to them. Setbacks and adversity are seen as a part of life, a matter of course. Things to learn from, to grow from. And when these women get down and discouraged, as we all so, they talk to their friends. (It’s important to have friends.)

They support each other.

Ballerina 2

I’m not sure why this struck me so hard, recently. But it was a good realization to have: that strength means going on, doing the things you want and need to do. It means resilience. It even means stubbornness, as in not knowing when to give up, to take no for an answer. Doing what everyone tells you can’t be done, not because you believe in yourself, but because you may as well try as not. Thinking, “I’m not sure I can do this” every step of the way, but doing it. It means flexibility: thinking all right, that didn’t work, what other way can I try to do it? The women I’m thinking of aren’t tough: they get hurt, they cry. They don’t try to be tough. They remain open to the world, to the wonder and the pain of life. They remain vulnerable. They fail and fall, then they pick themselves back up, try to understand what went wrong, what they can change in themselves that will produce a different outcome the next time. And, like beautiful, unstoppable forces, they just keep on going . . .

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9 thoughts on “Being Strong

  1. Thank you for this post, and especially for pointing out that 1) complete self-confidence is not necessary for starting and finishing something 2) tough =/= strong 3) fairy tales involve learning from adversity more than they do doing everything perfect in the first place. This post was -exactly- what I needed today.

    • Good! :) Yes, if I needed to be self-confident to act, I simply never would . . . The important thing is to act anyway. And I believe very strongly that strength involves not toughness, but flexibility and grace.

  2. As I am trying to catch up on a few blogs, interesting that I would land on this older post of yours, right when I needed it. I’m working on writing about a particularly difficult slice of life, when I humiliated myself to protect my child, and then I found I had made things even worse. As I write, I hope to find the strength in what appears very weak. Sometimes the strength in a body, in an action, is difficult to see outwardly, but as you’ve written, I believe it is there. If nothing else, the act of writing is rather brave, as you also said.

    • Maery, it sounds as though you WERE strong. There are so many times I’ve done things that I knew would seem weak to other people, but it was because I was trying to accomplish something, or because I loved someone, and so I left myself open to fail, look foolish, etc. I think that’s strength. Not acting because you’re afraid of failing or looking foolish, that’s weakness. It sounds as though you were the strong one in this situation, even if you didn’t necessarily feel that way.

  3. Love this one! I know some of those strong fairy-women too and I agree, they are made of enduring stuff. In fact I think I may be one of them as well ;) I’ve had several clients who have said “your head stone is destined to read: “She was strong for a little thing”. (I’m a massage therapist and I do some fairly deep work when needed) I think the childhood tough-stuff was an excellent builder of character!

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