Sunday, February 14, 2010

Strength to Stand Up Strong

They come from out of nowhere; perhaps early in the morning as soon as we open our eyes or on the way to work or even late in the afternoon. We might be forewarned of their arrival, but sometimes they spring up like a jack-in-the-box, leaving us breathless and anxious. They are called, “the wrong side of the bed,” or “one of those days,” and they knock us down to the ground with an overwhelming force. We know they are a part of life, but where do we find the energy to stand back up? Where do we find the strength?

Last summer, my family and I went to Canada for my brother’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony filled with celebration, friendship and love. As we welcomed the newest members to the Couvillons, it seemed that nothing could remove the smiles on our faces.

But a couple of days after the ceremony, when I was in a hotel in the Canadian city of Victoria, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I couldn’t pinpoint what had triggered it, but anger and stress punched every inch of my body until it ached with unbearable pain.

I found myself walking through the streets of the city just before the sun rose. It was quiet outside, except for a few seagulls flying around Victoria Harbor and the occasional garbage truck sweeping up trash left over from partygoers from the night before.

But within me, my mind screamed out at the world. I had no idea where I was going, but it seemed that every problem I ever had arose from the air and joined me on my walk. I searched for someone to blame for my bad day’s existence; foolishly thinking that was the answer.

Then I turned down a street, and came upon the slap in the face I needed. It was a homeless shelter, and right in front of its door was an elderly gentleman lying in an awkward position, which looked like he had fallen and couldn’t find the strength to push himself back up. Next to him was another man with bloodshot eyes sitting on a bicycle, and at his feet was a teenage boy on his knees, searching the ground and twitching uncontrollably.

Fear replaced my anger, and I quickly turned around and headed back towards the hotel. But I hadn’t gone far when the man on the bike began following me.

“Sir!” he yelled. “Come back!”

I walked faster, uncertain of what he wanted. I had no money to give him, and wasn’t in the state of mind to face him. But I had no choice because he passed me up on his bike, and then stopped directly in front of me.

My heart pounded as I looked around for somewhere to run or another person to call out to for help. But then the sun rose slightly in the morning sky, and I could see the true cause of this man’s bloodshot eyes; sadness, but strength.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “Do you need food or shelter?”

It took me a few seconds to realize that he thought I was homeless. I might have found it humorous under different circumstances, but at that moment all I felt was shame.

“I’m okay,” I said. “But thank you for checking.”

Later that morning I ate breakfast at a restaurant overlooking Victoria Harbor. My body was exhausted and confused about everything that had happened. I felt like the weakest person in the world, but didn’t feel like I had a right.

When the waitress came over with my check, I sat silently and stared straight ahead. She poured me another cup of coffee, and then picked up my empty plate.

“Is everything okay?” she asked. “Can I help you with anything else?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but the words never came. Instead a single tear rolled down my cheek and fell into my lap. As I wiped its remnants off of my face, I took a deep breath and filled my lungs and mind with the memory of the morning.

“I’m fine,” I said. “I’m just having one of those days. But I’ll be okay.”

I’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed since that day, and know that I will do so in the future. The stress of life guarantees it, but it’s something that I’ve accepted. For I know that the truly wonderful moments like the celebration of my brother’s wedding outweigh those of fear, anxiety and anger.

But most importantly, I realize how fortunate I am for the friends and family who support me through the hard times. I’ve been blessed with strength, and when I forget, I think back to that morning and a phrase that my mother often preaches.

“You complain until you look around. Then you put a piece of tape over your mouth.”

I realize that I’ve made myself vulnerable by sharing this private moment with you. But my goal this year is to promote strength so that we may all be able to face the challenges of life. My hope is that whenever you are knocked down, you will take the time to look around. You may see devastation, but if you look closely, you will also see good fortune, support and love that will help you stand up strong.

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