Vulnerability with a Capital V

Jill - Roanoke, Virginia
Entered on October 14, 2008

This I Believe

I believe in vulnerability with a capital V. Arms flung open, heart unshuttered, the whole shebang. My conviction in this belief is gut-level. Forever running circles and high jumps in my head, those rare moments of vulnerability freeze everything from the neck up, pushing me down, instead, into my heart, my inner world, my fear.

In a culture that equates emotionality with weakness, keeping it together and remaining buttoned up is safe, practiced, reinforced even. Somewhere along the way, I bought the mindset that crying was for the weak-willed, the overly emotional, for girls. Growing up, I remember wincing as my mother and younger sister bawled at sentimental commercials. But as I’ve aged, I envy that unedited response. I envy being able to unapologetically let loose my own feelings.

I equate vulnerability with risk and daring. And while I’m a huge thrill-seeker—I love roller coasters and parasailing and long to sky dive—and something of a rule-bender, I have kept my inner self rather safe. She wears a seat belt, a helmet, a bullet-proof vest. She has protective eyewear, flame-resistant gloves, the whole nine yards. Which is all fine and well, only it’s hard to get underneath all that heavy equipment.

Through the years, I’ve found that true risk lives in the bravery of opening up, coming undone, pulling back the curtain for all the world to see the messiness of our inner lives . . . and believing ourselves capable of piecing it all back together when we’re done.

If I’ve had a full-throttle mentor in the great vulnerability challenge, it’s been my children. Moments after my daughter, now seven, was born, I nearly died. It was a routine c-section, and all was well until the doctor went to stitch up my uterus. I began to hemorrhage. The OR staff talked in hushed voices. Doctors consulted doctors. I felt the flick of that switch, the moment when things went from routine to panic. Throughout the hours that followed as they gave me an emergency hysterectomy, I was able to hear and comprehend but—due to the anesthesia– unable to speak. Without voice, all I had was feeling. A feeling of intense vulnerability not at the potential loss of my own life, but at the possibility of my infant daughter’s loss of a mom.

While I was pregnant, other parents shared with me that my life would change dramatically. They cited the usual suspects: late night nursing , endless diapers , sleep deprivation. What they failed to mention was the intense vulnerability of parenthood, a vulnerability born with my minutes-old daughter. Until then, I was able to create some semblance of safety, to forge some invisible fence that gave me security. But at the moment of her birth, all of that fell away and I was left drowning in the uncharted abyss of vulnerability.

I would like to say that with seven years has come great wisdom, that I have opened up like a flower. But the truth is: I struggle. I have to talk over the internal voices that rail on about “being strong.” I have to fight back against the default retreat: my head. It’s just so cozy and seductive up there. But when I feel most alive, when I’m aware of the spark, is when I’ve lost the lists, the scripts, the efficiency of shorthand. When there is no map, I have to listen in on my heart.

What keeps me pushing into spots that would have felt treacherous when I was younger is my children. I want to show them how to be vulnerable as much as I want them to be able to witness with awe vulnerability in others. For me, that is the most essential traverse of human connection: being vulnerable with another person and staying in the moment through that vulnerability. It is both what I wish for myself and the legacy I wish for my children. If they are able to learn how to be real, genuine with others, then my own open circle will feel complete.