What I’ve come to realize is that I’m attracted to vulnerability… to baring one’s soul.
…like a hummingbird is drawn to a feeder of a red sugar-water cocktail, so I am drawn to vulnerability. Not in a subservient or helpless kind of way—but the stuff of transparency kind of way.
Anne Lamott, a favorite writer of mine, has written best-sellers containing story after story about her recovery, subsequent motherhood, path to faith, and her struggles with bulimia, with self-image, with the war in Iraq. Why is she so widely loved and quoted even in the non-faith community? Because she writes about such life stories that the reader is almost always able to say, “me too!… I can’t believe she struggles with thigh size too!… I can’t believe there are some mornings when she can barely emerge from bed too.” It’s real stuff… transcending her writing studio into the spirits of needful readers.
It reminds me of folk music… a genre full of hand written melodies that span generations… sung by laborers toiling and citizens insurrecting. Ani Difranco is one of my favorite contemporary folk artists. She is loved and endeared by her fans for her blunt, often course, albeit powerfully moving lyrics. Writing about rape, anger, chauvinism, judicial injustice, racism, heartbreak, love, and motherhood, she seems to have the artistic genius and certitude in her songwriting that adds a whole other dimension to folk music. She is completely raw and vulnerable. And yet this state of being so very exposed is something that I am completely attracted to… something that I think is called vulnerability.
So I’d like to breach this subject of vulnerability for a moment. And I’d love for you to come with me.
First off—let’s get one thing straight– in reference to the “v” word, I’m not talking about posting a status about all the day’s occurrences or the 2.5 seconds of anger you experience towards a TSA agent which causes you to impulsively tweet about the injustice of modern airport security. (Although I will say the full body x-rays and rather intrusive “pat downs”—both of which have recently occurred in my life– do force one to take the plunge into a sort of vulnerability). Rather, I’m talking about relationships… I’m talking about friendships… I’m talking about loving a friend or a partner so much that your soul is stirred when you make eye contact with them. At that moment, you know that you have reached the deepest level of emotion possible.
It takes you off guard and it scares you to death. See now, you’ve got to figure out what to do with that emotion… how to translate that emotion into communication.—
How do you tell him/her? Alas, here comes the ugly business of vulnerability. The fear that creeps in that insists you just aren’t good enough to love that deeply, that you don’t know enough about love, or that maybe, and most detrimental of all, you don’t think you deserve to feel that emotion… that you are somehow unworthy. You cannot treat yourself kindly because you feel you don’t deserve that love… after all, loving yourself is an embellishment and not a necessity, right?
Piling on to that is the idea of fear of when you do somehow navigate vulnerability, you open yourself up to being absolutely taken apart… able to be cut deeply by the ones you let in. Exposed like fresh, pale, winter skin being drenched in the summer sun’s radiation.
So bare your soul? Well… to let you down lightly and in the gentlest way possible… I’m not entirely sure.
I’m not sure because I’m not good at this lets-let-everyone-see-the-flawed-yet-beautiful-Kate business. But what I am starting to find out in my own imperfect way, is that being vulnerable is the path that leads to the deepest, most sincere, most unpretentious connections with myself, with my spirituality, and with other humans. It’s like saying…—“Hello world! This is me: here I am with my tiny little, unresolved issues like fear, guilt, inadequacy, pride, and an uncanny ability to be stuck on myself. It’s nice to meet you, what’s your name?!”
As scary as the whole being exposed business sounds… it’s actually quite freeing because here’s a secret… most of us are in the same boat too. We’re scared… we weren’t given operating instructions for living in this crazy world… we aren’t quite sure how to do all of this. By being vulnerable, I am showing those around me, me. The real me. And thus, I am welcoming them to say “oh—that’s me too… wow, I’m right there with you!”
I’m not so idealistic as to believe that being vulnerable with a friend or partner isn’t closely accompanied by pain and deep hurt. It is. You let someone have access to cut you deeply (and they will), but you also open yourself up to loving that person thoroughly in the most profound of ways. Love that makes you ache. Love that brings you to tears of joy.
Maybe vulnerability comes in different flavors for all of us.
Maybe to you it means that you’ll stop trying to predict or control every situation.
Maybe to you it means that you’ll start seeing yourself as worthy to belong and be deeply loved.
Maybe to you it means that you’ll start letting yourself feel the gamut of emotions like grief, shame, joy, disappointment, fear and then being honest about feeling them instead of numbing them.
Maybe to you it means you will start being okay with imperfection.
Maybe it means to love with no guarantee of the love returned to you.
I think for me… being vulnerable is a little bit of all of these things. But maybe most of all… it means to me… that I’m fully living.