I had a very good friend named Mary who suffered from a disease called Lupus.
Lupus can be a mild disease, or it can be horrific and fatal. It can go from mild to severe, back to mild again.
My friend was very sick, and we’d often talk about how she looked fine on the outside, but her body was waging war on itself.
She was yelled at for parking in a handicapped space although she could barely walk. Early on when her disease was beginning, her family struggled to understand why she was so tired and sore. They didn’t believe that this beautiful young woman who looked healthy on the outside was suffering greatly on the inside.
Katie was a young college woman I worked with years ago. She was bright, cheerful, intelligent, and funny. She also suffered depression so deep that she regularly cut her body with razors and constantly thought about how she could kill herself.
She managed to get through college with good grades and was accepted into graduate school, all while feeling as if she did not deserve to live. No one guessed at her pain.
AvaLou is a bright 2 year old who has kidney disease. Like Katie and Mary, to look at her you would not guess the battles she has already fought in her young life.
She has had countless surgeries and procedures on her small body. She is a fighter, but she also struggles and hurts, and her body is waging war to survive. People have a hard time accepting that she has limitations because she looks fine, until you see the scars on her back.
In the months before Mary died, we would text because she lost her hearing. I wrote her this piece to let her know how strong she was.
My hope is you will be reminded of your own greatness and the greatness of those struggling with hidden illnesses.
Sometimes, I have to remind myself where true greatness lies.
It is not found in PhDs, or beauty, or wealth, or recognition.
True greatness is painful.
It is watching as others run up mountains
While you take two steps on the trail.
Others cannot see that your body or mind, or spirit is ill.
The world doesn’t know what battles you’ve fought,
Or what deep scars you bare.
They don’t know that your two steps are your mountain,
A mountain many said you would not reach.
True greatness lives in those who may never reach the top of the mountain,
But who takes the first step anyway.
And even though their strength is silent, and their beauty masked,
Those with true greatness know the battles they’ve been through,
The invisible burdens they carry,
And see their own beauty and strength
When others cannot.