I've been musing much, this year, on the relative virtues of strength. Many people go on, as if enshrining someone, about "he is so strong" or "she is a strong woman, nothing breaks her."
Mostly, though, strength is just the only option.
I endured a period of years when people marveled at my strength. Waiting for E, who lives four thousand miles away, seemed to many - particularly women, of course - some sort of personal feat. I believe it got romanticized somewhat. Then, of course, he lived too far away for too long - and he ended up demonized. But that's a different post.
The point is, "waiting" was not an active pursuit for me. I wasn't building up some sort of moral muscle in myself. I wasn't pining particularly (still not, really). It's just: E is the man I love. He's four thousand miles away. The only option was this "strength" people were once so impressed by. The only other was to buckle, and why would anyone do that?
Strength is easy to come by. Frankly, it'd be harder to fail to develop some. Life is a daily exercise in building toleration, ability, even a bit of personal power. Strength is the inevitable result of getting up every day, and not choosing to be defeated.
It is COURAGE I admire. That is a virtue worth reaching for - and one you do have to reach for, after all. It isn't the clear end of ordinary action, and it takes more thought than strength (which can so often be negative; how many people whose strength of conviction do you know, whose convictions terrify you??). Courage is what you get after three years have gone by, your love is still half a planet away, and people begin abandoning you as a madwoman or a stubborn old biddy. Courage is what you have to learn when, having begged G-d for years to relieve you of an attachment so many think is unhealthy, G-d says, "abide; stay more" ...
One of the best authors in the world, Donald Harington, has much to say on the subject of staying more. On the subject of love. Go find him, I'll wait.
Courage is what you have to have when you're past forty and looking for fellowship. Courage is what you have to have as a woman without a family. Courage is what you have to have to suffer the disease of vanity, and to age contentedly with it. I am prideful, I am shallow, I am many embarrassing things. But I give myself credit for courage, for something more than strength.
I'm grateful G-d gave me even the small portion of it I do have. I wonder, often, whether the people who think they know me best realize how big my supposedly empty heart really is. I wonder whether contentment is the only reward, really - contentment only, without ever reaching satisfaction.
(Contentment is another one of those half-measures - like strength to courage, contentment's got nothing on satisfaction ... But, again, another post perhaps; if that sentence doesn't say it all, simply.)
With age, I have shed fear. With the absence of so much "everyone" things is necessity, in my life, I've been forced to the ambition of my own necessities. With the strange priorities I set for myself, I have learned how to reach, for myself, what most people never even want. I am so strong.
And I'm a little bit brave, to boot. Imagine it.
Daddy asked me, that day when I was four years old and in the hospital for stitches: "Who is my big, brave girl?"
I am, dad.
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