While enjoying three days and two nights at a retreat for female veterans, I was afforded multiple opportunities to confront various issues that I had allowed to become barriers to my personal growth and development on many fronts. Most of the therapy was delivered through what appeared to be a series of not entirely uncomfortable, and sometimes pleasant activities. One such activity has been continually brought to mind recently. I’d like to share it here.
It started with each participant being handed a lovely journal. We were told that these journals were ours; we could write what we wanted, share what we wanted, and take them home with us after our time together that weekend. Inside, we were informed, would be a slip of paper on which had been typed a quote that had been personally selected for us. We were instructed to leave the building and find a place on the property where we could sit comfortably and contemplate the quote given us. We were to write whatever came to mind about the quote and rejoin the group.
I found a secluded park bench near an open corridor and opened my journal. Nestled in the front few pages was a slip of paper with a quote from Bob Marley. It read, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” I began to cry. I was feeling weak, beaten down and helpless. I had been continually dealing with intense discrimination and harassment for several months, had lost my job, and become homeless. Strong was not a way in which I would describe myself. But I wanted to complete the task before me, so I sat and contemplated that quote.
I began to realize that what I had recognized as survival and barely scraping out an existence was being seen by others as strength to stand against a community and society that wanted me to go away as they struggled to tolerate my visible presence. I had been demonstrating all along the strength to reveal myself to the world, with integrity, honesty, and authenticity, despite the extreme costs. I did in fact have the strength to live, because I had stood on the precipice of death, and shouted loudly, “No! I’m going to live.”
I looked down at the blank page staring up at me. Like the page, I was a new person, a clean slate. It was time to write my own story. And so, before I returned to the group, I penned the following, which I leave with you.
To Live “Who do you think you are,” they’d say, trying hard to press me. Guilt and shame were the price to pay, if I were to be free. Was life worth continual pain? Of this, I wasn’t sure. Perhaps my death would be my gain; to flee would be my cure. But life itself became my prize; I would not let it go. I found the strength on which to rise; my journey I would know. ©2015 Amanda L. Grimes