My grandmother was born on an east Texas watermelon farm in 1922. At age 17, after she graduated from Beaumont High School, she left for Hollywood and danced in films alongside Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, hobnobbed with Humphrey Bogart. After she met my grandfather, she left Hollywood and gave birth to four beautiful children, the oldest of whom is my mother. I am the oldest of nine grandchildren. I wish I had inherited her legs.
This past December, she died after a fifteen-year journey with Alzheimer’s, and throughout her decline, she was as light-filled and beautiful as Alzheimer’s is bleak and ugly. I remember, in the earlier stages of the disease, how she would bend down to study a flower with awe and wonder, or stop walking and raise her face to the sky to watch a bird soaring overhead. With childlike wonder, she noticed what we adults consider mundane.
My mother, so involved and committed to my grandmother’s comfort and well-being, intimately cared for my grandmother as the disease rendered her wholly dependent and vulnerable. There was such rawness in my grandmother’s vulnerability; sometimes witnessing the progression of the disease sucked the air from my lungs.
I think about vulnerability quite a lot in both my human life and my writer life. When we bare ourselves, we can feel very chilly. Vulnerability can be painful too: rug burns and splinters may occur with so much bareness. Have you ever poked a snail’s antennae-eyeball and watched it retract? Vulnerability can feel like we are the snails and some human schmo has bent down to intentionally poke our eyeball.
When we are vulnerable, we give someone else a piece of our self, not knowing how it will be received or whether there will be reciprocity. We simply open up our chests to another, hoping that person will appreciate or empathize with our desire to reveal the beauty of a beating heart, praying he will not run screaming.
CAUTION! SOME PEOPLE WILL RUN SCREAMING! That person over there, that sealed-tight, glass-skinned lady with the pretend smile? She likes Valentiney, heart-shaped things, but doesn’t like actual hearts, especially when they aren’t covered up with lots of layers of stuff.
And over there . . . that fellow in the brick box he has built for himself, with just a few gaps for air holes and sunlight, he’s terrified of all organs, especially warm, bare skin, our body’s largest organ of all. He stays in the brick box where it’s safe, where there’s no need to see others’ vulnerability, where there’s no reason to be vulnerable himself.
The decision to live with vulnerability allows others to poke us in sensitive places, but vulnerability can also leave us feeling wholly alive, invigorated and truthful. Vulnerability also connects us more intimately to others. If you’ve tried out vulnerability, you know I’m telling the truth.
Vulnerability: Good for Humans
In his picture-book-for-adults, V is for Vulnerable, Seth Godin, explains, when we are willing to be vulnerable with someone else, we create “imbalance” in the relationship . . . we are admitting that we struggle in some way, knowing full well that the other person might laugh at us, fear us, dislike us. But it’s that imbalance, Godin says, that leads to connection. Yes! [Read more…]