Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who is the strongest person you know?

"There is so much pain and I don't know how to not notice it."

I have always identified myself as strong; tough as nails, sticks and stones can't break my bones, you can't break me, you can't even shake me, you know, that whole thing. And I do genuinely believe I have strong characteristics and I do think I'm capable of handling a lot, but the truth is: nothing really bad has ever happened to me. I have been very loved, very blessed, and very privileged for my entire life. I have done stupid things and that had bad consequences, but I chose them. I have cared about people who hurt me, but I chose them. In all of the moments when my strength was tested, there was a preceding moment in which I knew, this could go horribly wrong, and then it did. But I don't think these things make me exceptional and I don't think they make me strong, they just make me a person who deals with shit when she has to deal with shit. I might have defined strength differently, I might have thought the things I experienced were hard, I might have gone so far as to think I can genuinely understand the kind of pain people are put through, if I wasn't my mother's daughter.

My mother is little, very little. To hear her tell it, she is an ogre, but in reality, she is a beautiful, sunny little person. You might know her from church or from knowing me or from high school or from work or from her writing, but no matter how you know her, very quickly you realized that she is a lot of woman contained in that tiny body. She will pray for you until your burden is lessened, she will readily hit you with a barrage of fucks, and I guarantee she can drink more beer than you. Any of you reading this, I don't care your body weight or your age or your presumed drinking talents, she can drink more beer than you.

When I was ten I got a C+ in social studies. My dad told me it was okay and sometimes smart people get bad grades and that I would just have to try harder next semester. But it didn't really matter what dad said because I knew my mom was going to come home and shove my report card up my ass; I never got a C on a report card again. When I was sixteen she grounded me for two weeks because I drank at a party and lied to her about it, when I was eight she smacked me in the head with a brush because I wouldn't sit still. And in all of the twenty years I've known her, these are the only bad things I ever remember her putting me through, and they were for my own good. For the entirety of my life, she has always gone infinitely above and beyond for me, more so than anyone I've ever known. She is so good and so kind and she will love you, no matter who you are, and when you wrong her, she will love you more.

My mother is sweeter than I am, she is more friendly and more likely to take an interest in random people in Wal-Mart than I am. She is sweeter, but she is much stronger than anyone I have ever known.  When she was fifteen, her brother and her everything died. A year later, her best friend died of cancer. When she was twenty four, another one of her brothers committed suicide. And two years ago, her father died. She has survived three labors, bankruptcy, countless betrayals, and the kind of experiences that make people go wonky-eyed. Her story is hers to tell though, not mine. The reason I write is not because I want to tell you all how much I love my mom or admire her or am in awe of her, she and all of you are well aware of that. I write because I am in awe of so many of you, your strength, your resiliency, your ability to get out of bed and keep fighting and keep succeeding. I write because throughout my lifetime I have been asked a thousand and one times, "Who is the strongest person you know?"

And I have to say, I think everyone I know is the strongest person in the world.

The world has a lot of conflicting ideas, a lot of beauty and a lot of pain and a lot pain disguised as beauty and beauty disguised as pain. But you are all surviving, thriving in it. And some days you have to remember that getting out of bed is more than someone else could do today. And other days you have to remember that the universe is not conspiring against you, sometimes shit just sucks. But every day, you have to remember that you are trying, that you are probably being too hard on yourself, and that we get to do this only one time, and doing something that makes you happy, is not a bad thing.

For the ones doing everything in their power to be the best big brother they can, I am in awe of you. For the ones who are planting churches and raising babies, I am in awe of you. For the ones battling depression, I am in awe of you. For the ones struggling to find God, find yourself, find your way out of the closet, I am in awe of you. For the ones loving people in different states, different time zones, different countries, I am in awe of you. For the ones who can't see the next step, the next paycheck, the next light at the end of the tunnel, I am in awe of you. I don't know if someone tells you how strong you are being every day, but damn, you are truly remarkable.

I don't think it is my burden to be the strongest person in the world, I don't even think it is my burden in this life to be strong. I think it is my burden to be a person to the strong people. My mom said once that I internalize her pain, but I think I was just built to love people who go through an exceptional amount of pain. I am small but I am sturdy and for a long time I could not understand why so many bad things happened to so many of the wonderful people I love. I think it is not why these things happen, but when they happen and who is nearby to love them when they do. God puts soldiers where they need to be, and I am a good man in a storm.


  1. We never know how strong we are until we are challenged down by the weight of adversity. Sometimes we make choices that bear bad fruit. Sometimes we are just sledgehammered by fate's cruel side. But we go on, and you are right, by the support of others buttressing our own fortitude.

    You are incredibly wise for one so young. Your writing speaks of a clarity of vision that is wonderful but can be so burdensome...

    I will wait in line for your first New York Times bestseller...

  2. Chloe Bell, this made me cry.