Down Eight and Up Nine – An Ode to Strength

We are told that if we are knocked down eight times, we must get up nine times. This is strength in its most quantitative form and it is easy enough to visualise: strength is having one more try, another shot in the dark, simply carrying on once again. And again. And again.

The idea of ‘again…and again…and again’ is a sign of the times in more ways than one. It can be found within our repetitive days and repetitive news alerts, but the practice of getting-up-and-going every time you face a setback has always been a part of human nature. It is arguably this resilience that gives humans their very nature. This year for reasons that simply do not need an introduction, it is getting a whole lot more airtime. So, let us use this time to learn just how strong we truly are.

For what feels like both the shortest and the longest nine-month period, our days have not been about creating the life that we were told to envision ourselves living when we were clad in school uniform; the type of life well-loved books have depicted and the one we had made an abundance of hopes and plans for. We have had peaks and troughs and a thousand individual reasons to feel low and to want to hide away until it all blows over. Simultaneously, we have had an equal number of reasons to want to carry on again, to want to carry on with our work and our education and to try to bring out those innate smiles that we all subconsciously crave.

We have adapted and continue to adapt with every dagger thrown into our plans (Christmas or otherwise) because, really and truly, there is nothing else to be done. Underneath the emotions of anxiety and fatigue, there is an eternal strength there that enables us to persevere and this deserves a little internal round of applause every single time we take one step forwards when taking two steps backwards was likely the easier option.

We are all carrying along in the best and only ways we know how. It is important to remember that because no one has the gift (or curse) of a crystal ball, everybody is making it up as they go along. Everyone has their own little path of perseverance that they are working on and sometimes these paths cross our own. When this happens, it may just be that we are feeling stronger than the stranger whom we have encountered. So, offer a little bit of your strength to them in their time of need: share a smile or a polite hello because it might be the one positive interaction they have that day.

Sharing our strength with others is one of the most rewarding things any of us can do. And when a day comes where you are not feeling your strongest, this is okay. You will get through once you are feeling a little bit stronger, and perhaps a stranger might return the offer you kindly gave to them.

Life is not about being strong all the time and often, to be vulnerable is to be strong. It is truly hand-on-heart okay to ask for help when times are tough, to struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes and to feel lost. But there is always another side, always another gem to be found in tomorrow. For the time being, we must accept that carrying on is the new living, the new wild and free. It is not easy. Change of any description is a challenge but it is these challenges that build this strength which we don’t ever give ourselves enough credit for. The one saving grace of tough times is that they can make the other things we once dedicated so much headspace to seem much smaller. Other mountains become molehills once again as we devote our strength where it is needed most.

There is no off switch, as lovely as this sounds. We are beings full of thoughts and desires and reactions and as long as our big ol’ hearts keep on beating, we will keep on going. We do not stand still when there is a fire approaching – we run and find a new place of safety. If there is a storm in our path, we walk around it and find another route home. I personally find it comforting to view emotions as natural things. If anxiety is falling snow which I know will soon melt and eventually disappear, then strength is the oldest oak in the forest that no storm could ever touch. We all have an oak tree inside of us – now is the time to show it some love.

YES YOU ARE! Art by the wonderfully talented @ellamaestratham
A time for love and strength! Tate Modern, London, December 2020.

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