She hasn’t heard that song in a long time but as it plays now on the radio she remembers how many times in her life it has inspired her in difficult moments and given her the courage to move on.
She first heard the song by Gloria Gaynor in 1978, she thinks. It was one of the songs of that summer that played at the disco on the Algarve and it had the power to bring everybody to the dance floor, dancing wildly and singing loudly “I will survive”…
The song sounds quite cheerful, even if it is about a story of heartbreak, of despair, and then of recovery, of survival, of life after love. It pulled her through a few months after, when her first real love story – as all the others so far had been platonic – suddenly and unexpectedly ended when her boyfriend broke up with her only a month after they started dating…she was very much in love – or so she thought; after all, what do we know about love at sixteen? But she had come home from school – after he told her he wanted to break up – completely devastated and she had looked at the cars passing by and wild thoughts had crossed her mind, such as ”Now if I jumped under a car he would regret what he did to me…” – of course she had never for one second seriously considered doing anything of the sort, but the mere thought made her feel like one of the tragic heroines of the romantic love stories she so avidly read…
But she had survived, of course. And after a few days – in the somewhat masochist way only known to broken hearted people– of listening to the songs of their happy, however brief, time together, by chance she listened to Gloria Gaynor’s song and suddenly the lyrics made a lot of sense and she found herself listening to it more and more. She bought the record and played it over and over again, singing “First I was afraid/ I was petrified/ kept thinking I could never live/ without you by my side/ but then I spent so many nights/thinking how you did me wrong/ and I grew strong/ and I learned how to get along”.
And slowly she made these words hers. And not only did she survive, but she went on to live other, much more intense, much more romantic, meaningful love stories that made her realize that one had only been a first youthful love, charming and fresh, but nothing more than that – and very soon all the traces of pain disappeared, and only a nice memory remained.
Many decades after when she listens to the song she thinks how many times she has had to say “I will survive” in her life. After that first heartbreak she nursed a few others. All of them so much more painful than that first – or perhaps not, as never again did she have that urge to jump in front of a car! Still, some of them hurt very much. But in each of them she was older, more mature, and more able to deal with pain, with more weapons and more fulfilled facets in her life that made her less dependent on just one in particular.
Yes, she thinks, this is a song about strength and courage. About surviving the end of a relationship. And now she’s not thinking about herself anymore, but of all her friends that, like her, have been through the same – the friend who thought she had a happy marriage only to understand it had been a farce when her husband left her for a younger girl; another who was betrayed by her husband and her own best friend who was depressed and seeking consolation; yet another who had realized she could never live with the love of her life as they were too different, and went on to live an unhappy marriage that inevitably ended in divorce; how another one stubbornly held on to an unhappy marriage because of her children only accepting the inevitability of a break up many years later; how yet another, with an abusive live in boyfriend, had to run away from him going to live in another city, as it was the only way to get rid of all the violence; and how they all overcame it – and how they all survived. Yes, they are true survivors.
She gets up. She plays the song on her iPad. And she sings along:
“I will survive/oh as long as I know how to love/ I know I’ll stay alive/ I’ve got all my life to live/I’ve got all my love to give/ I will survive! I will survive!!!!!”.
She whispers a word of gratitude to Gloria Gaynor for her song with an eternal message. May many women continue to be inspired by it, she wishes. She certainly has. They will survive.