“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”—Christopher Robin (A. A. Milne)
The first time I read this quote, I thought of a story I had just read about a young man with extraordinary athletic skill and ability. At just nineteen years old, Rafael Nadal already knew that he wanted to be a world champion tennis player.
It was 2005, and having won his first Grand Slam title that year and charged up to No. 2 in the ATP rankings, he seemed poised to scale the heights of greater success. However, after several weeks of discomfort in his left foot, the doctors discovered he had been born with a rare foot disease that caused one of the bones in his foot to swell and inflict frequent intense pain, with the potential to halt his entire career overnight.
This twist of fate tore through Rafa’s youthful aspirations. Unable to walk, much less play tennis, he slipped into a dark spiral of depression. He spent hours lying on the sofa staring into space or sitting in the bathroom weeping. “I didn’t laugh, I didn’t smile, I didn’t want to talk. I lost all appetite for life,” he said later.
At that point, Rafa had to make a pivotal decision: He could give up or go on. He could choose the easier path, but forfeit the potential rewards on the rugged way. He chose to press ahead, to focus on victory, even if he only saw and felt defeat. It was not an easy choice; he continued to suffer injuries and difficulties with his foot problem, but his determination paid off when, three years later, he stood as the world’s number one tennis player.
There are times when life deals us a harsh and bitter hand. Our dreams are broken, our hope is gone, and we are lost in despair. But even if all circumstances point to defeat, we can choose to live in victory. We can choose to hold on day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. We can choose to try again, even if we are afraid of failing. We can choose to love again, even if we have been hurt. We can choose to give, even if we have suffered loss. And one day, we too will emerge from our dark nights into a brilliant sunrise.