My mother had a saying. She’d ask us “How many wells does it take to make a river?” The correct response, at least according to her, was “One – if it is deep enough.” As a kid I first didn’t understand this at all. It helped when she explained wells and how they work. Then I just took it literally. I used to imagine a well tipping over and creating a river. For a long time it was one of those family things that we’d chuckle about.
I hadn’t really seriously thought about it again until a few years ago. I began to realize what an incredible metaphor it was. As I began my transition to becoming a therapist I really began to see how strong people are. Again and again I would see people draw from deep inside themselves to keep going, sometimes just to exist and other times to change and improve their lives. It is truly amazing to see it happen again and again.
And I began to think about that saying. How each of us is a well creating our own river. Our lives are like a river flowing along, sometimes meandering around graceful curves and other times rushing straight ahead with unbridled abandon. And while it is amazing when other peoples lives join our river, helping keep the water level high and the flow going forward, individually we are deep enough to create our own river.
What is really striking to me is that sometimes the individuals that are most skeptical of their own depth have the greatest ability to reach in so deeply and draw from themselves to feed their own river. It seems like we all have a different understanding of how deep we are. How much strength do we really have to overcome difficult situations, to handle hard emotions, to grieve loss…sometimes just to persevere. But time and time again it seems that we have enough. Even when we think we don’t.
Many of us have been given messages that we don’t have strength. We aren’t smart enough or kind enough or resourceful enough. In other words, we just aren’t strong enough. Sometimes these messages are direct and overt. But sometimes they are more subtle or camoflauged with good intentions. Like when people that love us will try to protect us because they worry we aren’t strong enough or that they’ll “use us up” if they burden us with their concerns. This not only tells us we aren’t enough it also prevents us from experiencing the type of emotional sharing and vulnerability that creates deep connection. What starts out as well intentioned ends up being limiting, disrespectful and counterproductive.
Despite what you may have been told or any preconceived notions you may have, there is really only one way to determine how deep your well of strength is. It is when you are called on to use it. When it is the thing that gets you through. Until you actually start drawing from that well you can’t know how deep it is. But I do know this – people are strong. You are strong. Our desire to survive and thrive and be resourceful is powerful. I’ve seen it again and again. I’m willing to bet your well is deeper than you can imagine. And it will be enough to get you through.