People say it so often that it has almost become a cliche, but really think about the words: That which does not kill us makes us stronger. We all have events in our life that challenge us and shape us. It may be divorce, domestic issues, the loss of a loved one or other serious events that truly helped you become who you are. And while these events are things that we reflect upon over time, they really are the moments that have made us stronger.
Dealing with grief, fear and anger takes time. These are things that most of us remember and deal with over years before we find a moment of piece with it. I’m not sure that the major events ever go away or completely lose the emotions attached to them, nor should they. It is those emotions that keep driving us, keep molding us, and put us in a place where we can empathize with others. It may be a painful connection, but it’s one that so many of us share – and we are truly not alone in it. Be honest with someone else about your experience and watch how willing they are to share theirs with you. There’s a camaraderie to pain. We have all been there and we all still deal with it, just in individual ways.
When I was a sophomore in college, two of my close high-school friends died in unrelated accidents. This happened within two months of each other and it was something I was not at all prepared for. Erika, who was at the top of our high-school class, went to prom with our group of friends, spent our senior picnic playing volleyball with me, and was someone I really looked up to, died in an instant in an automobile accident. I never found out the exact details, but I do know that it was raining. Since we didn’t have the internet or social media in 1995 and I didn’t know her parents, none of my friends nor I got any other answers. Erika would have done amazing things. In fact, a few years ago I was with my kids at a library and I saw her walking down another aisle. I grabbed their hands and began to walk over to her before realizing that it couldn’t have been her. I think we all have those moments and they’re heartbreaking.
The second of my friends who passed, Chris, was a wild man. He was someone I knew through friends and I think I always had a little crush on him. The bad boy who did unexpected things. He used to call me Spike (why, I’ll never know) and the last time I saw him, he grabbed a pocket knife and jabbed it into the arm of an old chair. Why? I’ll never know. But I like to think that he was trying to impress this innocent-ish 17 year old girl. Chris died in a car accident on the way home from visiting a friend at Northern Illinois University. It was crushing, especially after hearing about Erika. These beautiful young people would never live the lives they’d imagined for themselves or that I wanted to witness. Sitting here as a 40 year old woman with children, one reflects on people in a whole different way. You mourn them in a different way and you see their deaths in a different way. And ultimately, hopefully, you use the emotions to grow.
I have had many events in my life from which to grow. No one has had a perfect existence and while we never want anyone we love to hurt or being in pain, there really is no other way of sparking immense growth. People who happily sit on a merry-go-round, eating cotton candy their whole lives will probably develop a stomach ache and nausea. You are going to face adversity whether you try to create the best of circumstances or not. And once it is before you, it is what you do with it that is the ultimate decision.
I think about Chris and Erika often. I think about all that they won’t have and how today is really the only day. You never know what will happen tomorrow and since attempting to control the future is futile, do your best to be in today. Live in today. Enjoy what you are doing right now and look forward to what might be in the future – with no guarantees or promises. No one can give you that. But what you can give yourself is strength. Strength from the anguish you’ve faced, strength from helping others, strength from telling your story. What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but only if you allow it.