I met someone today and my initial impression was that she is a goddamn Superhero.
Looking at her, you’d say she is very ordinary. She is of average age to have a kid or two, and wears clothes that would allow her to blend in anywhere from a snazzy cafe lunch with coworkers, to the dish soap aisle at Target. She plays happily and freely with her kid, but checks her phone enough for me to know we could be friends.
Admittedly, I’ve seen her a number of times before and never did much more than offer a smile. But for whatever reason today is different, and I finally take the time to say, “Hi.”
Our conversation starts normally, with particulars exchanged in moments squeezed between acknowledging, encouraging, and parenting our kids as they ping-pong around the room. Ages of children are offered, current employment statuses discussed, and of course comments about the weather are made because this is what adults talk about (right?).
And then a bomb is dropped: Her kid is sick. Like, really sick.
An instant weight falls upon my shoulders as I hear her talk openly about almost losing a child. A tightness in my heart, squeezing, squeezing, as she discusses an unknown future. I stumble with my words, an apology, a well wish, a heavy silence while my brain spins with horrible Hallmark-worthy phrases to offer up.
And all the while, she remains standing. Shoulders back, head up, strong as hell, she talks about what might come, and she is still standing.
Driving home from our brief encounter, I find myself wondering how she can be so strong. How can she wake up every day, look down at the tiny broken body of her child, and wonder if today is the day something changes? How can she stomach the rage, stop the questions, or breathe through the panic? How can she live her life normally when something so abnormal and horrible stands in the way?
My initial answer is that she must be a Superhero, as certainly no human is capable of soldiering on with the heavy burden of knowing at any moment, for reasons entirely out of your control, your kid could die.
But then reality sets in, and a string of painful of memories parade across my eyes. Miscarriages, cancers, suicides, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and more – all of these tragedies suffered by people within my immediate circle of friends.
Yet through all of this death, loss, and pain, through all of this suffering and struggling, perhaps the most important memory of all is the one where I remember that like her, these people remain standing.
Just like the woman I met, these people are living their lives as normally as possible not because they have superhuman powers, but because they they don’t. They have no other choice but to get up each day, put one foot in front of the other, and get through it. So they do. And yet, by surviving by doing exactly what you and I do every day without remark, they appear remarkable. Extraordinary. Superhuman, even.
By taking a second and recognizing their humanity, their normalcy, I find myself overcome with emotion. The strength, grace and perseverance they show every single day as they carry around their bleeding hearts and half-healed scars is not only inspiring, but a reminder of a very important lesson for even the most normal of everyday people: We are strong.
I am strong. You are strong. We are so capable, but more often than not we forget that until we are blindsided by tragedy, staggering through the darkness of depression and loss. This woman, this lovely, incredibly normal human woman, jolted me awake with what I wrongly attributed to be Superhero strength, but now recognize as something we all carry around in our core. We are strong. Let this be a reminder for anyone who one day wakes up and finds they need it, that incredible super human strength is in you too.