In thinking about the long list of women who have inspired me, my 16-year old daughter tops the list, matching any of my heroines in her strength and fortitude. Aptly-named Grace, she was recently diagnosed with a medical condition that has required numerous surgeries, weeks of hospital stays, and indignities that have kept her out of school for the better part of her first two years of high school. She has spent the last few weeks being poked, prodded, stuck with needles, fed through tubes, and without control of her basic bodily functions.
Grace is compassionate, funny, liked by her peers, and a dedicated student. I am often told how beautiful she is. But because of body image issues stemming from her infirmity, she is frequently isolated from her friends, electing not to participate in ordinary teenage activities, declining sweet sixteen parties and school dances. Despite all of this, Grace rarely loses her composure. I have seen her cry only once – in the hospital when being told of her impending surgery. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she manages to make the most of her time out of school by volunteering at the neighborhood school library, filling her time with piano and art classes, and befriending people outside of her circle. She rarely complains, and manages to find sympathy for others in spite of the difficulties she faces. In the hospital, as nurses were waking her up in the middle of the night to change a dressing or draw blood, she would never fail to thank them politely, no matter how badly she felt or how much pain she was in.
I sometimes catch myself feeling sorry for her as think about what she’s missing in these years – first crushes and new found independence. But then I stop myself as I witness how much she is gaining from her experience. In the face of adversity, she has found tremendous inner reserves of strength. While it isn’t the life she would choose for herself as a teen, it is her path. And in the end, she will have gained what her peers may never know. True self-knowledge that comes only by being tested.