WHAT’S YOUR DEFINITION of strength? Whom do you consider strong? Have you faced a challenge, or multiple challenges, in life that required strength? While our answers vary, especially on the third question, I expect threads of commonality in responses.
Strength, from my perspective, is about fortitude and endurance. It’s about somehow finding the ability to face a challenge, to persevere, to come out on the other side with a renewed sense of personal power. Not power in the sense of control, but power that reaffirms one’s ability to deal with whatever life throws at us.
We all have something, right? Financial hardships. Health issues. Loss. Pain. Family members who are struggling. But, admittedly, when we are in the middle of a lot, it can sometimes feel like we are alone, that others live perfect lives unencumbered by issues that drain, stress and, yes, sometimes overwhelm. Nothing could be further from the truth. I repeat: We all have something, whether individually or within our families. We are not alone.
The novel, Three Sisters by Heather Morris, prompted me to write on the topic of strength. Although fictional, the book is based on a true story about three sisters held in a concentration camp. This is a story of indescribable atrocities witnessed and experienced. This is also a story of irrepressible strength and hope. I encourage you to read this novel and also watch Ken Burns’ newest documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” which happened to air at the same time I was reading the book. Together, the two were almost too much for me to emotionally take in. It’s a lot to comprehend the inhumanity and cruelty of mankind. Those sent to concentration camps certainly exhibited strength, whether they survived or not.
In reading Three Sisters, I learned that gladiolus (the flower) signify strength. And the iris, which is part of the glad family, denotes hope. The iris was my mom’s favorite flower. “Hope” is a word I’ve held, and continue to hold, close. “Hope” is not simply a wish. By my definition, it is an active verb that focuses on light shining through darkness. It is a word, too, that envelopes gratitude and believing that things will get better.
My name, Audrey, means noble and strong. I wish I’d asked my mom why she chose that name for me, her first-born daughter. I never did, and now she’s gone, but the name fits. I’ve had to be strong many times throughout my life. We all have something, right? Challenges can make us better, more empathetic and compassionate people. That is the good that arises from struggles.
This week, especially, with World Mental Health Day on October 10, I consider mental health. From anxiety to depression to brain disorders like bi-polar and schizophrenia, these are undeniably hard diagnoses which require incredible strength to face. Simply getting up in the morning, functioning, can prove difficult. There are no cures. No quick fixes. Medication can manage, therapy can help. And even though we are getting better at recognizing and understanding, stigma remains. We can do better at supporting, encouraging, helping. We need more mental health professionals to meet the growing demand for mental health care.
Strength. Hope. Those two words inspire and uplift. Gladiolus and iris. Those two flowers represent the same. From the pages of a novel about three Holocaust survivors to my name to life experiences, I understand what it means to be strong, to feel hope.
TELL ME: I’d like to hear your thoughts on strength and hope.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
excellent thoughts, and I also live with an eternal ‘hope’ and that is what keeps us going, I think. the picture at the beginning is such a great image of strength, and the book sounds wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time. the iris was my father’s favorite flower too, and I always think of them when I see them.
Ah, heartwarming to me personally to hear that the iris was your father’s favorite flower.
I can see why your mother named you Audrey. I see you to be a strong resilient woman. I too, have a hard time seeing the realities of WWII. The camps, the horrors that went on… But I MUST look up this book and read it! A book that I read sometime back is “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”. A wide-eyed view of a child’s glimpse into a concentration camp. You might want to check it out, if you haven’t already.
I appreciate your kind words, Penny, and your book recommendation.
Valerie means strong too, and brave. I never asked my mom about my name… but it’s interesting… Sheri and I wrote about our own names recently.
I did not know that Iris’ symbolized hope. I do like them, now even more!
I like the verse about God giving us only what we can handle…it’s true we all have trials.
I love that we share a definition of our names. I hope you post your writing about your name. And, yes, that’s a reassuring biblical reference.
I’ve been meaning to watch that program on PBS about the Holocaust. I’ve heard from other friends that it’s worth seeing. When thinking about strength and hope, I always think of resilience, about what it means to be able to find the path that offers a way forward. For me, that means meditation and gratitude and compassion. It means offering what I can whenever the opportunity arises, big or small. It means not looking away from hard situations, but remembering that we are all part of the same reality.
Kathleen, I appreciate your thoughtful and compassionate response. Your interpretation of strength and hope resonates.