All I ever wanted to be was a strong black woman which is convenient because that is what people like me are bred to be. A varied number of tragic events happen to us and we are told to react with strength. It is supposedly the only antidote for a broken heart, or a broken body or a broken brain. “Stay strong,” we whisper to each other as the only answer to a woman wailing internally.
Man I hate that encouragement. Who is to say I was strong to begin with? Or maybe this situation has used up all of my strength, so I don’t have any left to use. And what does strength mean anyway? How does a person live in strength? And what does that mean for vulnerability? Or sensitivity?
I suppose it is the ambiguity of the statement and the easy acceptance of encouraging people through soundbites that I dislike about it. When my mother wants to encourage me, she tells me a story. This is a cultural distinction. Long winded and circuitous, we speak in prose and then let the silence add what it must. In doing this we validate the others pain, not just by the conclusion of our speech but by the time and space that we have just shared.
The strength of our mothers was cemented in an era when they were not afforded the time or space to evaluate their own strength. They just pushed through, and taught us daughters to push through as well. Which was a good and necessary lesson. But something about that feels incomplete.
I realize it now, in the moment of writing. It comes back to the definition of strength. Yes there is a strength of endurance. But there is also a strength of love, of wisdom and of justice. This is the amalgamated strength of our mothers, that they passed on to their daughters.
A story. In a darkened living room, in the hours between days, with knees tucked and hands folded, I shared with my cousin some of my truths. I felt myself unfurl like a flower, with all the light of the moment picking up all of my intricate details and projecting them as a mosaic whole. In the silence that followed she took a deep breath and said, “Girl, you are STRONG.” And I FELT IT. And I WAS IT.
Be strong, stay strong and all related encouragement phrases remain just that, expelled hot air devoured of encouragement BUT how encouraging it is for those uttering this mini command! “Be still and know that I am Lord ” is a better encouragement because it requires nothing from one. Thank you for helping me see beyond words.
C’est ca Maman! It’s really important to be intentional with what words we use, especially when we are trying to build people up! LOVE
This is an awesome piece that reveals an inner “strength” that you are revealing in such a subtle but meaningful way!
I am already looking forward in anticipation for your next posting!
I really appreciate your support and and anticipation! I think this ‘strength’ might be genetic! 🙂
Thank you for reading cousin who called me strong!