Most people haven’t even noticed their strength. They’re so focussed on their pain.
~ Rachel Naomi Remen, author Kitchen Table Wisdom
Our household has recently welcomed a family of Ukrainians, fleeing the war. It's a mother and two daughters – the husband and 18-year-old son remain in their country to defend it.
I just returned from walking the youngest to the school bus, where she climbed on with a dozen other kids for the ride to her new elementary school. It's been just nine days since she got off a plane from Poland.
This family is weaving itself into our day-to-day lives. Their dog plays with our dogs and cats. We all sit down to dinner together. We grocery shop together. We jokingly call ourselves "one big happy family." But I notice how often they check their phones and then exchange glances with each other. The other day, they shared with us a photo of a magnificent church in a village near to their own, the turret engulfed in flames.
"I don't know how to talk to you about this," my husband said to them, his voice deep with sadness. "But I am so sorry for what you're going through."
They smiled. Those words, for the moment, were enough. Someone saw their pain. Someone recognized their loss. Someone acknowledged that none of this fair.
I'm awed by their courage. To pack up everything into two large suitcases and a couple of backpacks. To leave their family business, their home, their friends, their husband and father and brother. But they've heard the stories of what's happening to those who stay. They know the stories. And so they roll the dice on a family they'd never heard of before, who lives across the world in a country they'd never been to. They took the chance that they would be welcomed. That they would be safe. That what they didn't know in another country was better than what they knew in their own.
Any time our lives are turned upside down thanks to the actions of a madman, we are thrown into a fight for our survival. Infidelity might not be war but it can sure feel like it. Our bodies don't discern between threats, they only know that the bright alarm is flashing red. And so they fight. Or flee. Or freeze.
But though it might not feel like it, we have choices beyond fight, flee, or freeze. And though you might not recognize it as you're living through it, you have a deep well of strength that you're drawing on even as you're curled up weeping on the floor. It's a strength that will serve you. It's the strength that gets you to work more days than not. It's the strength that parents your children, that comforts them. It's greater than your pain.
Rachel Naomi Remen, the provider of the quote at the top of this post, was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in her early teens. She spent a decade, she says, "angry". And of course, she was. It wasn't fair that she had a disease that, she was told, would cut her life short, would cause pain and discomfort. It's not fair that Ukrainians are fleeing their homes because of an ego-driven authoritarian. It's not fair that our own lives have been turned upside down because of a partner's betrayal. We can choose anger, which is reasonable. And maybe we have to spend some time there. But we can also recognize that, greater than the pain, is a strength that will help us straighten our spines and walk into a future that might not be the one we'd have designed but that we can make beautiful too.