Tough People

Tough times don’t last, but tough people do. — Unknown

I have known individuals who seemed capable of walking on glass through fire. I remember hearing about a young man who was in a plane crash with all of the members of his family. He was the only survivor. To put it mildly he in fact appeared to define the idea of surviving. With the support and love of his relatives he somehow managed to grow into a happy and well adjusted man. I wondered how he did so. I imagined myself falling apart and being an emotional basket case for the remainder of my life if I had to endure the same circumstances.

I have often found myself thinking about the survivors of the Holocaust who walked out of those concentration camps with nothing but their own lives. I’ve read that in many cases they were not even given the opportunity to return to their former homes. They were all alone, sick, with only dreary prospects for the future, but they somehow found the courage to not only continue, but to become inspirations for all who knew them. The human spirit is indeed remarkable.

At the same time there are those who are so fragile. Like delicate glass figurines they are sometimes beaten down by the circumstances that befall them. The chemistry in their brains goes awry or they are saddled with such severe disabilities that they are unable to lead anything even close to what we might think of as normal lives.

I had a dear friend who suffered from chronic depression. When she was well she was almost magical. Her talents were extraordinary and she was more generous than anyone I have ever known. Without warning her mind would fall into a dark abyss over and over again. Her melancholy prevented her from working or even handling routine activities around her house. She hated being subjected to the spells that so impeded her ability to maintain a sense of constancy, and in spite of regular visits to doctors and faithful attention to medication and therapies, her episodes returned again and again. It would have been so wrong to imply that somehow she was not a tough person, but in truth she earned a reputation as someone who was undependable. It broke my heart to witness the judgements that she endured because she was amazingly adept at keeping her head above water. She clung tenaciously to life and her faith, never losing hope even in her darkest hours.

We have so many platitudes that seem to eliminate the efforts of certain people. We certainly herald the brave souls who come back full force from daunting challenges, but we often overlook those for whom the recovery is not nearly as simple. Addictions are particularly difficult to overcome. It’s not always easy to just say no. Those who eventually eliminate offensive drugs or foods or beverages fight quiet battles every minute of every day that are not always obvious. We chastise and nag them when they fall prey to the temptations but rarely give them the credit that they are due for making it through one more day without harming themselves with the things that they so crave.

Each of us will face tough times now and again in our lives. We will engage in fights to overcome all sorts of difficulties. We may have to walk away from an abusive relationship or watch someone who is dear to us die. We may find ourselves feeling insecure on a job that seems to demand more than we think we have. We sometimes wonder if our parenting skills are sufficient to help guide our children into adulthood. We will all have those moments of feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of failures, disappointments and losses that beat us down.

Tough people do not handle everything perfectly, but they do keep trying, sometimes with tears of frustration streaming down their faces. They get up each morning and start all over again, but they also know when they need to just stay in bed to rest for the big race that is to come. Knowing when and how to be really good to yourself is part of being strong. There really is a time for tears and another for laughter. Our emotions and anxieties often remind us of just how human we really are and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, those who are never willing to admit that they are tired, confused, angry or lost are most likely going to explode at some point.

I find it refreshing when someone reaches out for help. It is not an easy thing to do, but it demonstrates great strength and wisdom. I often wish that my mother would have been more willing to accept the help that was so often offered to her. She insisted on denying that she had any problems whatsoever when in fact she was drowning in her efforts to be totally independent of others. I have often suspected that by attempting to control her emotions so tightly she actually made the symptoms of her mental illness more pronounced. Sometimes surrender is the best thing that we might do for ourselves on the road to getting better.

One of the most encouraging things that I ever read was that St. Mother Theresa sometimes questioned her own faith. Such a revelation reminded me that even someone as saintly as she was finds themselves in the very human position of temporarily losing hope. It is not in those moments that we are measured, but in how we pull ourselves out of the dark ditches into which we fall. We are our toughest when we rise from the deepest pits.


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