Recently, while meeting with a Rabbi, I was asked, 'Where do you get your strength?' The question took me off guard a little and I had to pause for a minute and think. I wasn't exactly sure, I replied after a few moments. "Perhaps it had something to do with my DNA. There is a long line of strong women in my family", I added. "Ultimately I think that each morning when you wake up to another day you realize that you just have to keep moving. . . and so I keep waking up and putting one foot in front of the other."
I've been thinking about her question quite a bit and I still have to admit that I'm not sure of the real answer. I'm also not sure why she asked it. I assume her question was related to my spiritual and emotional journey, coming out, and having a desire to find my own way in the world. But it hasn't helped me crystallize a clearer answer than the one I originally gave her. I really do think that there is an element of genetics that can't be denied. I had strong grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great grandmothers who were not afraid to thumb their noses at convention and society. They raised children out of wedlock, divorced worthless husbands, survived abuse and came out of it all smiling. Some of them were tough-minded pioneers, some braved Hitler's blitz, others raised families with nothing – but they didn't view themselves as extra-ordinary. They simply got up each morning and kept moving forward.
Where does that come from? How did they find the strength? Somehow I think it's inside all of us. We're the product of countless mothers and fathers who survived unfathomed cruelties, plagues and privations and their collective strength is within us.
Twenty years ago I may have tried to pawn off a weak explanation about gaining strength from Jesus or the Bible, but it would've been self-serving and false. Can people gain strength from those things? I'm sure some do, and I won't take away from their ardent belief in finding solace from scripture. But I think that it must come from inside of us to be of any use to us. Someone else's strength won't go far in helping me through illnesses or times of stress, it has to be something that wells up from within. Perhaps it's a gift from G-d, perhaps not. I only know that it is a gift. I didn't cultivate the strength, it was simply there.