survival of the strongest

flame

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I used to subscribe to that notion, but now I’m not so sure.

I know plenty of people who have gone through difficult times in their lives. Some have handled those trials brilliantly, showing more resilience and strength of character than I thought possible. With others, I watched carefully constructed façades begin to crack and crumble.

The people that I know who suffered a blow but stood tall, that refused to break in the face of sorrow, of loss, of pain- these people did not just become strong because they were dealt a crappy hand.

They didn’t simply bluff their way through the rough times. They did not blame the dealer for their problems. The strong ones refuse to fold because they choose to hold out hope that things will get better. They have an impossibly persistent fire in their soul, a wonderfully gritty determination to continue, to persevere.

You do not magically, mystically gain strength because you are faced with a challenge. You are either made of the resilient stuff, or you’re not.

If you get in a car accident and walk away from the wreckage, that doesn’t make you any less breakable the next time you get behind the wheel. A broken heart, the worst one you’ve ever had, does not make the next one hurt less. Losing a loved one, no matter how devastating it is, does not diminish the grief you feel at the next funeral you attend.

The things that don’t kill you do not make you stronger- they show you what you’re already made of.

That car accident might make you more careful in the driver’s seat. That broken heart may teach you how to forgive and forget and try again. That loss may show you that no matter how painful absence can be, life goes on.

But these things do not suddenly imbue us with strength, and to say that they do is almost insulting. We do not get the strength to continue from our tragedies. We turn inward, we dig deep, we search desperately for the tiny spark within us that refuses to quit. We either find it and rise from the depths or we let the flame extinguish and never quite recover.

I know some incredibly strong people who are still burning brightly, and some who have let the light go out. The ones who have persevered have done so time and time again. The ones who have given up have done the same.

Don’t listen when you are told that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You are not persisting because of your hardships; you are persisting in spite of them. What doesn’t kill you hurts, and stings, and chews you up and spits you back out to see if you have what it takes just to keep breathing.

But somewhere deep down in there, you have the strength to continue. And if you’re made of the right stuff, you always will.

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