I only realised how strong my favourite women were when I had the least amount of time to appreciate it.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a tight grip on my idea of what ‘strength’ is. Strength for me was a badge of pride, a way to protect myself, as well as a way to ensure I would be successful. My notion of strength all stemmed from wanting to be “tough”, and never ever wanting to be a “damsel in distress”. In itself, this is not a bad thing, but looking back I can see focusing only on this blatant kind of strength was at times to my detriment.
I climbed mountains in a moonboot and paid for it later. I hated myself when I cried or showed ‘weakness’. I tried my best not to need other people and refused to ask for help – even in the direst of circumstances.
‘All my life I’ve collected strong women, the ones that I thought were just like me’
It’s funny isn’t it, how, subconsciously, we can hold onto these perceptions even without us realising. I only seemed to find value in these loud kinds of strengths, such as drive, stubbornness, never needing help, and physical fitness and strength. Whereas the softer strengths like forgiveness and asking for support seemed to find their way to the weak list.
All my life I’ve collected strong women, the ones that I thought were just like me. One’s with personalities that say “I do what I want,” “I have my own opinions,” and “I don’t need anyone’s help to be successful.” These were the type of girls I seemed to gravitate towards and surround myself with – as I found their determination, independence, and headstrong nature inspiring.
My three younger sisters are these types of women; something that caused no end of arguments when we were younger, but now that I’m immensely proud of. My friends are also this type of women; determined to achieve their own goals in their own way, and staunchly opposed to any of the sexist or derogatory bullshit that still rears its head all too often.
‘It’s ironic that amongst these ‘strong’ women, I feel safe to allow myself to be what I previously saw as ‘weak.’
It is interesting though, even as I write this it is not their ‘overt strengths’ that first come to mind, it’s the quiet ones. I think of these women and I think of people who balance fierce independence with putting others first, who say I love you loud and often and who are always there when I need them. It’s ironic that amongst these ‘strong’ women, I feel safe to allow myself to be what I previously saw as ‘weak’.
It is only now that I’ve started to realise that there is more to strength than my subconscious lists have led me to believe. In part, it is through the recent loss of the beautiful souls I have been brought up by that’s changed my perceptions. Women who possessed the quiet strengths as much as the more ‘obvious’ ones.
My grandmother, the woman who taught me to sew and to bake her famous fruitcake. The woman that taught me when you do bad things (like put soap on your cousin’s toothbrush!) they come back to bite you, and that saying sorry is always worth the embarrassment. Through her, I learned that you should always tell people you love them and that something as simple as a held hand or a hug can be the bravest gesture of all. She also taught me that you decide your own destiny, using her determination and the power of hope to keep on living even after the doctors told her she wouldn’t. She refused to go when she was told; only when she was ready.
My great-nana was much the same, the quietly influential monarch of our family. Her determination and sheer damn independent-ness became apparent whenever we had to hide while doing the dishes (every time) so that she wouldn’t try and stop us. There was nothing she loved more than being there for others, whether that was through an abundance of baking or openly showing joy in our visits. Even by the time she was 95, she still steadfastly refused to let anyone put themselves out for her; putting others first even when she was at her end.
‘They’ve taught me that quiet hope is strength…’
It is through their love that these special women have taught me that there are different kinds of strength than the more in-your-face kind I’d always coveted, kinds that are just as powerful in their softness.
They taught me that quiet hope is strength. That making love the basis of everything you do is strength. That smiling when you feel like crying is strength, but also that crying freely when you need to is also strength. That putting family first, reaching out often, and looking for the positives is strength.
Most of all they taught me that if I have even a smidgen of the strength they have, I don’t need to seek anything else.
Megan Raynor is a creative and copywriter