Diaries Magazine

Whatever Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger

Posted on the 19 October 2013 by Shavawn Berry @ShavawnB
Amanda and Shavawn, August 14, 2013 - Photo by Karen Wilson

Amanda and Shavawn, August 14, 2013 – Photo by Karen Wilson

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” – Chinese Proverb

My mother’s the strongest person I know.  What’s made her that way? Life’s trials and vicissitudes. Death. Divorce. Loss. Illness. Terrible tragedy.

My mom, who is now 78, comes from a childhood of domestic violence and abuse. She married my father at 19, and had her first child at 20.  My sister, Roxanne, was born with a congenital heart defect that caused her to store her body’s sugar in her heart instead of her pancreas.  As a result, she couldn’t get  enough oxygen from her blood and she turned blue.  She died when she was 18 days old.  My mom not only endured that loss, but she was forced by her in-laws to have an open casket funeral for my sister. I cannot imagine the kind of strength it took to bury her first baby.

And her losses kept coming.  She lost her mother at 29 and her father at 37.  She lost a  close friend to murder when he was in his 40s and her best friend to a brain aneurysm at 45.  She worked at low wage jobs in order to put food on the table after my dad left her for a younger woman.

She takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

I don’t tell you this to make you feel sympathy for her.  Rather, I tell you that she forged her strength in the fires of life.  Not an easy,  hand-me-the-crème-brulee sort of life.  No, she’s lived the rough and tumble, grit and grace,  keep-going-no-matter-what sort of life.  She takes a licking and she keeps on ticking.

Last Christmas she nearly died from a blockage in her intestines.  She lost 30 pounds in one week because she couldn’t keep anything down.  She slept on the floor because she was too weak to stand up.  Even pulling up her pants was more effort than she could manage, she was in such a state.  In the middle of the fog of that illness, a part of her realized that if she didn’t get help, she would die. So, she finally went to the hospital where she was given fluids and other medication for 16 hours.  It has taken her nearly a year to recover, but she’s survived.


I wish I could say that my mom’s story was unique.  But it isn’t.  It is a story that is playing out in throughout this country and the world, every single day.  In small towns and inner cities, mothers are going without food so their kids can eat.  They are barely scraping by but never allowing their children to realize they are poor.

Life is a feast.  It’s a banquet table of plusses and minuses. Birth and death.  Fires. Floods.  Broken promises and flattened hearts.  Tender mercies and small joys. Yet from that broad menu of experiences comes a capacity for happiness,  and an appreciation for beauty,  art, and the natural and spiritual world.

True strength is kindness, gentleness, grace.

This is a world that contains contrast.  And the contrast we experience tells us what feels right to us and what doesn’t.  If you’d never experienced weakness, you would not recognize true strength.

As my mom learned when she was still a tiny child, true strength is not physical force or dominance. True strength is kindness, gentleness, grace.  She learned from the animals and people she loved, and from the books she read, that the world she knew was not the only world there was.

True Strength Seeds in Loss.

True strength understands and endures physical and emotional agony. True strength seeds in loss, in the crevices that pull open and reveal our grit whenever we experience something we don’t believe we can survive.

Like water falling onto a rock gradually pierces that rock, our life experiences soften and shape us. They make us stronger than we ever imagined we could be.

© 2013  Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved

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