When I say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” what comes to mind?
I heard those words again, sung by the defiant voice of Kelly Clarkson, as quarterback Mathew Stafford of the Detroit Lions received the comeback player of the year award the night before the Super Bowl. Many of you may know the song well, but it was the first time I had heard it. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she belted out, “stand a little taller, doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.”
I pondered those words. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I wondered how much stronger I could possibly get. What do you think of when you read those words? What has made you stronger? The betrayal by a loved one? A frightening diagnosis for a child? The loss of a career and the income that came with it? A parent in the hospital? The loss of friendships you thought were solid?
Or perhaps, like me, all of the above.
“Eight years ago this month, my mom died from heart disease,” Cathy Crowder, chairwoman of the 2012 Go Red for Women Luncheon, shared with me on “A Woman’s View.” “She was 71. She was so active and took great care of herself. We were ridiculously close. She strengthened me as a person. And I love that song, the Kelly Clarkson song. You have to take the good from these hardships in your life.”
How? I need specifics.
“I would go through my closet,” Crowder went on, “and grab clothes and take them down to a shelter and give them to women who need them. That’s how I did it. And that’s also how I became involved with the American Heart Association. That’s where it all started.”
“I think of the amazing women I have in my life,” KSL 5 morning news producer Kristine Pratt offered, “the women I see in my life every day. I even think of the level of growth I see in myself. I get up at 6:30 p.m. to come to work at 10:30 p.m. I get off work at 7:30 a.m., and whenever anything tries to get in my way, I say, ‘No. No. This is what I’m working for. This is what I’m about.’ ”
If that shift doesn’t kill you, it will most certainly make you stronger. I think of the discipline Kristine’s schedule requires, especially at her age (which I’m thinking is 20 something) when all of her friends are wanting to go out and have a social life.
“When I hear that phrase, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ I think it’s important not to inflict things on others intentionally,” former Utah Republican national committeewoman Nancy Lord said. “Mean-spirited people could use that as a club to justify it as an excuse to toughen you up, as in ‘this will just make you stronger.’ ”
I had not even considered that — that people would do it to you on purpose in an effort to make you stronger — but, of course, that is possible.
“When things happen to you,” Lord continued, “it’s your choice. You can choose to grow emotionally, spiritually, physically. But there are people who are living dead who haven’t figured out how to get above their trials.”
Are those tears in my eyes?
Someone started talking to cover up my awkwardness. It must have been Nancy, bless her. I was lost for just a moment in her last comment. Was I one of those people, those “living dead” who hadn’t figured out how to get above her trials? Some part of me must have thought so, the part that started crying.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The first time I remember hearing that phrase was from my mother, probably the strongest person I have ever known, a woman who survived despite all odds. Born one of 16 children, two of whom died in infancy, to alcoholic parents. Ignored or worse for much of her childhood. The first girl of six to go to college. She showed me all of the things her parents did not show her: how to love children, how to value education, how to value sobriety, how to do what you say you’re going to do, how to work like you have the energy of three women half your age, smiling all the while. Now, I’m not saying I learned all these lessons, but she taught them to me, and I tried.
I’m still trying.
When I want to sit down and have a pity party for myself, I think of her. “Stop your boohooing,” she might say if she was here with me. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“Then I am one strong woman, Mama.”
“Just like I raised you to be.”