The Last Word

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“Every time I witness a strong person, I want to know: What darkness did you have to conquer in your story?” penned author Katherine MacKennett. “Mountains do not rise without earthquakes.”

As I think of the strongest people I have known, I realize that they are those who have grappled with struggle, known defeat, endured suffering, dealt with profound loss, and—against all odds—have found their way out of the depths of those battles of the soul. They remind me that strong people don’t just happen. To read more, click the button below.

img blg MountainsBridalVeilI have the incredible fortune of being surrounded by a tight-knit group of five women who are my dearest friends. We came together in junior high and high school, and more than five decades later, they are my touchstones. My strength. The ones who remind me of who I am and what I can do when I have somehow forgotten.

I have to smile when I remember those early days, when we had sleepovers and stayed up half the night dreaming of our future lives. We were all going to marry the perfect man, have a flock of perfect children, and live in a perfect house—complete with a white picket fence.

But, oh, that was before the earthquakes.

One of those women survived the suicide of her first husband and the pornography addiction of her second before finding a kind and gentle companion to be at her side. Through all of it, she soldiered on, working as a respected educator to support her family. She recently buried her much-loved daughter, who succumbed to cancer and left two small boys behind to conquer their own earthquakes.

img blg MountainsSnowAnother of those women suffered the sting of divorce—not once, but three times. Suffering from a debilitating physical syndrome, she never failed to stand as a towering support for her children. She recently stood vigil at the bedside of her son, who had to travel halfway across the country for a heart surgery so complex that he had only a slim chance of surviving intact. But he did survive, thanks in large part to the mother who nursed him and prayed over him and gave to him her strength.

Yet another of those women stood at her husband’s bedside while, only three weeks after his diagnosis, he died of leukemia—leaving her to be the mountain of strength for their four children. As they grew and married, she helped some of them battle a genetic form of depression that nearly took their lives. She buried a tiny grandbaby. Through it all, she became a much-loved professional storyteller and clown, brightening the lives of so many. She recently anguished through her only son’s fight against Covid-19, enduring months of his hospitalization and an initial prognosis of little chance of survival.

img blg Mountain2Still another watched as her beautiful five-year-old daughter was hit and killed by a pickup truck on their quiet rural road. When her husband served a decades-long prison sentence for a heartbreaking crime, she stepped up and supported him as well as their large family, serving as the beacon of strength for them all. When her husband later left her after returning from prison, she faced her future with the same stoic resolve. He’s home now—but, slipping rapidly from the ravages of dementia, he never really came back.

Finally, the last of those women was blessed with a faithful companion who helped raise their eight children. To a casual observer, hers might seem a carefree and easy life—but a casual observer would never see a son’s estrangement, a grandson’s arrest and institutionalization in communist China, or the prolonged struggle to coach her mother through bouts of mental illness. Her faith and optimism are the things that covered the fault lines of her earthquakes.

There they are: the five strongest women I know. The women who have held me up through two divorces, the deaths of two children, the complete estrangement of a third, nine instances of nearly dying, and the current heartrending situation in which I find myself. My earthquakes are still rumbling, still keeping me unsure on my feet, still making me hold my breath for the next aftershock—while these women, mountains of strength, show by their lives what I can someday attain.

I’ve obviously had earthquakes. So have all five of my friends. I suspect you have, too. But next time you feel your foundation shaking, remember that strong people don’t just happen. Remember that mountains do not rise without earthquakes. Look ahead to what you’re destined to gain from them all. You will be shocked by its magnificence.

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