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VULNERABILITY

To be human is to be vulnerable.

“Vulnerability is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding undercurrent of our natural state.” – David Whyte Consolations

As an infant, the first emotion I likely ever felt was distress. Wholly vulnerable and utterly helpless, I relied on the adults in my life to protect me and take care of me until I was old enough to take care of myself.

As a young kid, I may not have been as physically helpless anymore, but I was still largely powerless, especially being that I was born female, which only added to my ever-increasing vulnerability in relation to the rest of the world.

By the time I entered my teens, my vulnerability lived in my body like a separate entity. Walking down the street grown men would shout lewd comments that made my heart race and my face flush and my knees weak from the fear I felt settling in my bones.

That particular vulnerability still lives in my marrow.

But as I grew into adulthood, my understanding of vulnerability grew along with me. I was keenly aware of the tender, vulnerable spots in my body and my psyche that needed constant protection.

Every time I felt an arrow pierce my armor, I understood I had two choices. I could remain reluctant and afraid to ever put myself in a position of being hurt again, or I could remain in the battle with the courage to fight another day.

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through that door.” – David Whyte Consolations

After I was forced to leave my home at the age of seventeen, I had two choices. I could refuse the considerable risk of being on my own at such a young age and beg and plead with my parents to allow me to come home again, or I could inhabit my vulnerability and fight to make a new life for myself by going to work full time and finding a new place to live.

I chose the later.

After I was thrown from my horse at full gallop, I laid in the field where I landed, unsure if I might die before the paramedics finally reached me almost an hour later. When I returned home from the hospital a week later, I had two choices. I could refuse to risk being hurt again and sell my beloved horse, or as they say, I could get my ass back in the saddle.

I chose the later and was riding again five weeks later.

When my first pregnancy ended abruptly at fourteen weeks, I could have easily let my fear to take over and never try again. The same can be said when I suffered my second miscarriage only a short time later. But both times, as intensely vulnerable as I was, I risked it. I became a citizen of loss and swore an oath to life the day I finally became a mother.

And that is where my greatest vulnerability will always lie – with my children.

They are an extension of me, and I will always feel an acute vulnerability where they are concerned.

My son, who moved into his first home last year, now feels a like a phantom limb that’s still attached to me. I know that no matter how much physical distance there is between us, he, like my daughter when she leaves home to strike out on her own, will always remain a part of me no matter how far apart we may be.

They are in large part why I began this blog in the first place.

I had already written three novels that went nowhere and was at a crossroads.

I had two choices. I could give up entirely on the idea of ever being taken seriously as a writer. I could burn my last two novels like I had the first. I could throw them into the fire and watch the flames consume the blood sweat and tears that marked every page. Or I could embrace this blog as a rare opportunity to look back at my life and share my stories not just with my children but with others in the hopes that they too, might find something in their own stories to relish.

I chose the later.

From the moment I began reading ConsolationsThe Solace, Nourishment & Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, David Whyte’s words strongly resonated with me and then began to haunt me. Each word was like a scalpel slicing straight to the heart of the matter – to the heart of what matters, in life, in love, in a family.

Each word is a meditation on meaning, and each has brought me solace and nourishment as promised. They have also, with David’s kind permission, served as a springboard from which to dive from, back into the waters of my childhood, back into the strong and at times turbulent current that runs through my life.

In many ways, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath ever since.

Owning my story has been hard but not nearly as difficult as spending the last fifty years running from it.

My vulnerability lies with my willingness to express my truth no matter what. Not just in this blog but in all aspects of my life.

Sharing my stories with strangers, and harder still with the people I know and love, has at times been terrifying but it was very important to me. It was something I felt I needed to do with my one precious life. To tell the truth of who I am and the paths I’ve chosen and open my soul so that others might see themselves and interpret their own stories in a new and more forgiving light.

However, unlike the characters in my novels, the people I write about here are real.

And therein lies the difficulty and the vulnerability.

My sibling’s stories, though they have been entwined with mine since my birth, are very different from my own and are not my stories to tell. We all had the same parents, but none of us were ever parented the same. This has been a difficult truth for some of them to accept but it doesn’t make it any less true. I have understood this from the beginning, so I did my best to respect their privacy.

Regrettably, I was not always able to do the same for my parents since they, more than anyone else in my life, are who shaped me. They are the bedrock from which my story sprang. I have tremendous love and respect for them both. I quite literally would be nothing without them and would have no stories to tell if I could not include them. But since they also have their own unique backstories, the stories I’ve shared here, all fifty so far, have not been the whole story.

I’m sure their stories might help explain some of their actions, but I was not able to build them into the backdrop of my own to give the necessary context as to why they raised me the way the did. I regret that because I know their own parents shaped them every bit as much. I know enough to know that their lives were far from easy and knowing this gives me enormous empathy for them and makes it easy for me to forgive them.

I started this project because I knew in my heart and in my soul that I could never heal the pain if I kept on refusing to feel it.

Recently, I came across a quote that felt like one of those daggers piercing my armor.

It said, “Pain gets passed down through families until someone is ready to feel it.” – Steph Wagner.

I guess I was that someone and I’m glad for it. As hard as this blog has been for me to write, it was necessary. Infected wounds only fester and grow more painful.

Using David Whyte’s words as my scalpel, I’ve done my best to excise the full thickness of my injuries. In the process of doing so, I may have inadvertently injured others by cutting open and exposing things no one asked to see or had any desire to look at.

By allowing myself to feel the full extent of my pain and my vulnerabilities, I inadvertently forced other people in my family to feel their own vulnerabilities as well – namely their unconditional love for my parents who we now all understand on some level, are living out the last chapter of their lives.

My willingness to be vulnerable and share my stories with the world was looked at as a betrayal of them by some. I was seen as their judge and jury and determined guilty for sentencing them to what some thought was too harsh a punishment.

Knowing all of this, I suddenly had two choices. I could quit, apologize profusely, and let my stories be quietly buried again along with my pain. Or I could keep going and risk being rejected by my family entirely.

I chose the later.

“To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to become something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others.” – David Whyte Consolations

After my sister died, I spent hours and hours alone grieving for her while contemplating the meaning of life – of her life as well as my own.

I, like the rest of my family, felt unbearably vulnerable when forced to accept the reality of her unexpected death.

And with her death, my sister taught me how important it was not to run from my vulnerability but rather turn and face it and embrace it.

Because of her, as morbid as it sounds, I began grieving for my parents years ago, knowing as I do that their lives, like mine, are finite. Sharing these stories about my life (and by default, theirs) has been a unique opportunity for me to say all the things I’ve wanted to say but couldn’t bring myself to for so many years, despite not knowing if they’ll ever read them and despite not knowing if the doorway to understanding between us was already closed to my grief long ago.

Yes, that makes me feel vulnerable, but finally feeling my feelings after trying to numb myself from them for all these years was necessary and has been worth it.

Now that I have let myself feel my pain, I can more fully feel my joy.

I can spend the rest of my life (and theirs) choosing to remember the good times, and there were most definitely plenty of good times.

I will always remember my mother gathering all of us together on special occasions to tell us the funny story of Herman the Pet Mountain Lion. She would push her tongue against her bottom lip while reciting it which always made the telling of it funnier. And my father, sharing with us the sad story of The Lightning Express so authentically that for a long time I thought he was telling us a story about his own mother.

Where would we be and who would we be without our stories?

 

NEXT WEEK: WITHDRAWAL

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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