Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?
For Christmas this year, my mother-in-law gave me, among other gifts, a necklace. It is a small silver teapot with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt engraved on the back: “Women are like teabags; you never know how strong they are until they’re put in hot water.”
Best gift, ever.
I first heard the quote after I was hurt in a car accident. During those first months, I spent many hours every day on Facebook, soaking up words of encouragement from my friends. One of them posted it on my page and since then, I have leaned on those words whenever I am feeling defeated.
I have never really thought of myself as being a very strong person, especially since I grew up surrounded by women who were all so much stronger than I could ever hope to be. My mother, who raised three children alone with little or no child support – in the 1970’s, it wasn’t easy to pursue a deadbeat dad across state lines. My Aunt Noni, who went against her father’s archaic beliefs to finish school and owned her own business at a time when single women just didn’t do that. Aunt Marian, who walked around with a non-union fracture in her leg for twelve years. My own sisters, who both went on to much larger successes in life than I ever achieved.
I felt that my own floundering process through life had shown anything but strength. I saw myself as someone who just got carried along by the current. Until June 21, 2011.
When the tree landed on my van, it crushed the roof in against the top of my head and left a deep gash in my scalp. It shattered my neck in two places and left hairline fractures up and down my spine. The impact blew out the windows and drove glass shards into my skin. The tree then plunged through the windshield and landed on my chest, pinning me in the vehicle; it was so massive that it spanned from just below my chin to my thighs, and the only thing I could move was my right hand.
But it did worse than that. It hurt my kids.
I will never forget my son’s wordless howls of terror or my daughter wailing “Oh, God! Mommy!” from behind me. The feeling of the pelting rain slapping me in the face while thunder and lightning battled overhead and the wind rocked my vehicle with violent gusts. I believed we were in the path of a tornado.
I think I understood even then just how badly I was hurt, even though I didn’t acknowledge it to myself or to the kids. It was necessity rather than personal strength that kept me calm. When a young man stopped and pulled the kids out of the wreckage, I begged him to put them in his own vehicle and get them to safety – to a hospital, to a storm cellar, to anywhere away from danger. I remember looking into his eyes and telling him, “the most important thing in my life is my kids. Please, leave me here.”
When the EMS workers arrived, no one would tell me where my kids were. During the entire 40-minute extrication my only thought was that I couldn’t let them hear me screaming or crying if they were still on scene. So I made jokes with the fire chief and to the policeman who climbed in and stabilized my head. I bit my lip when the tree shifted or when the Jaws moved crushed metal to a new position. When nothing else worked, I sang silly songs under my breath to keep from making any sound that my children might hear.
I wasn’t being strong. I was just being a mom.
I needed strength in the months after that, when I had to learn to accept help from others. When I had to understand that there were limits to my recovery. When I ached to lift my youngest child or play with him on the floor, and when I had to push myself through physical therapy and constant, soul-sucking pain.
Eleanor Roosevelt was right: we are stronger than we know, each of us in different ways. There are women in my life who have dealt with the loss of a child or husband; one friend is losing her vision because of her Diabetes while another struggles every day with blinding migraines. One dear, strong lady who always managed to lift my spirits with a kind word on my darkest days despite her own battle with breast cancer . . . well, Kristy lost her battle last September and left behind a daughter who is just as strong, just as kind, just as beautiful
I wear my necklace every day to remind myself that I can be strong, because I am a woman and that’s what we do.