Vulnerability scares me. More than that – it flat-out terrifies me. It clenches me, makes me cower, eyes huge and darting, looking for the direction and nature of the coming attack.
But I can’t share my deeper self by hiding.
I’ve been vulnerable, split wide open. As a child, I was often the target of frustrations and rages that rolled through our home like wildfires. Years later, I sobbed as I held a dying fiance, and again as my husband sat in a tiny NICU room, holding the body of our twelve-day-old son, unable to let him go.
I’m in no hurry to feel these things again, but I’m realizing, now, that there is strength in these raw and broken times. There’s understanding and growth that can’t come except through such catastrophic shreddings of the fabric of our lives.
I was raised in a home where parents hit and humiliated, in a milder version of what had been done to them. While I was still very young, I started to learn how to read people – body language, tone of voice, actions, the deeper meanings that lie beneath their words, the things they choose to focus on. More than that, I’m highly sensitized to others’ emotional energy. I can feel people from an empathic place deeper than language.
It was a survival skill, a way to know when danger loomed, maybe forestall it, and it’s saved me from many altercations with people who were not in control, or who intended me harm.
It’s made me a better writer, too, because adding these elements and frictions to the interactions between characters breathes deeper life and more complex motivations into the ways they think and treat one another.
I am the mother of a baby who died without ever crying. That’s a hard thing to live with, a forever shadow in my bright and happy life. I am the mother of two thriving children, and a dead one. There’s an unspeakable paradox in that.
It hurts – and hiding only makes the hurt worse, makes it impossible to share that paradox, to claw my way back to the brighter places when the shadows grab me.
Writing about vulnerable topics tends to be roundabout, for me. With Elijah, it began, several years ago, with fantasy fiction. I worked through much of my own heartache when my female protagonist had a child who died shortly after birth. Her life, like mine, was irrevocably altered, on nearly every level.
Within the last year or so, I have begun writing poetry about Elijah, and there is still deeper healing, nearly ten years after his death, in honoring all that happened, and all that it has meant in my life, my marriage, my mothering.
I’ve come to feel and value the healing strength of writing this way, along with the honest life in the writing itself.
And yet, I often fear and resist it. I hesitate, dancing written flamencos around powerfully emotional topics, without delving into them on a personal level.
Here’s an excerpt from the previous draft of this post:
~~ As I read others’ blogs, books, interact with people, and watch TV, I see that I am not alone. Many others, it seems, share my fear and unease with vulnerability. There is an incredible amount of marketing and political maneuvering that plays upon vulnerability. ~~
This passage splashes impotently on the surface of thought, never rippling the pools of my personal vulnerabilities.
In the midst of an essay on openness and vulnerability, I was hiding, protecting my soft underbelly, afraid to expose myself to you, or maybe even to myself.
We’re all vulnerable. We all die – the ultimate vulnerability. We grow older, we lose loved ones, jobs, sometimes homes and even our memories. We are stabbed by thoughtless words, broken apart by tragedies large and small.
Instinct says to shield our vitals, curl into a fetal position, and hide from the pain of our own frailties; gird ourselves in armor, to stay safe.
I’m challenging myself, and you, to go deeper– and, sometimes, to do so with pen and notebook, or keyboard, daring to record what is within us, laying ourselves bare – and giving ourselves the chance to find peace, healing, connection, and strength in the sharing.
I’m looking forward to the opportunity to honor your vulnerability – and your strength in embracing and sharing it.