Tag Archives: vulnerability

Ten Years

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“The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten–duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.”  –David Lloyd George

Ten years passed.  Ten years of living in a new world.  Ten years of mourning and fear.  Ten years of questions and anger.  Ten years of life and death.

I was 16, up early for school.  I showered first, early in the morning, and often went back to sleep or caught up on homework.  In a dark, quiet house, I watched the news more for the running clock in the bottom corner than for any headlines.  I was putting on socks.  All stories stopped short and footage rolled from New York, a plane collided with a building.  It was shocking and confusing, reports muddled and brief.  Could an accident this ugly really happen?  As reporters relayed what they knew, questions arose.  As a serious concern descended on the Bay Area newsroom, I became more glued to the coverage.  As reporters shared what little was known, a second plane took the nation by surprise, live.  I kept getting ready for school and remember telling my mom as she readied my little brothers in the bathroom.  I was brushed off, clearly mistaken.  I left for school and found my zero period Chemistry classroom flooded with radio coverage.  We listened as buildings collapsed.  I remember the principal making an announcement.  I remember coming home from school, canceling my babysitting appointment that night and the man not understanding why I wanted to be home with my family.

“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?”  –Alan Paton

I remember sitting in the living room that evening, watching television coverage.  The news continued all day, anchors tired and windows growing dark.  Images of the buildings, of the collapse, of people running and jumping and crying streamed.  It continued for hours, days.  More death, more destruction, more hatred.  It was all so senseless, so unnecessary.  It was brutal and cruel, targeting civilians and innocents going about life and work.  It was unbelievable.

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”  –James Bryce

Then, among the carnage, something amazing began.  People came together.  People loved and helped however possible.  People gave and gave and supported.  People were human.  In the face of blind hatred, optimistic courage poured forth.  Much like the Whos, America was about more than business and skyscrapers.  Taking away our pretty things, taking away our family and friends, would not destroy us.  We became stronger than the violence that sought to rend us apart.  There was a shining moment when all that was right with our country, all that we idealize and cling to, shone.  We were the American dream: rich, strong, generous and brave.  We were the promise for a tomorrow, no matter how dark the day.

(Frodo) “I wish none of this had happened.”

(Gandalf) “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.  There are forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”  —Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring

Life is not the same today.  The world is different than it was ten years and one day ago.  I resent that my safety was stolen, my security erased–the world is a scary place.  I resent that I can’t take liquids on a plane, that I can’t meet my parents at their gate as they arrive.  I resent that every fly over for the football games down the street stops my heart and makes my stomach lurch.  I resent that concentrate, small hatred has ruined so much for so many.  Today should be unremarkable.  It should be just another Sunday, wedged between my aunt’s anniversary and a close friend’s birthday.  It was not supposed to be this way.

“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”  –Kurt Vonnegut

And, most years, the day passes as routine.  The date stands out and a slight anxiety surrounds it, but it blends rather seamlessly with the rest of the year.  What I lost was ineffable, theoretic.  There are so many others who lost concrete, tangible pieces of their life.  I was lucky.  But this year, with the tenth anniversary, I am much more aware of the day.  I am astonished that ten years have passed, that sixteen year-old me lived in such a different world.  As I watch the memorials and coverage, I have been unexpectedly moved.  Last night I watched as four firefighters recounted the woman they saved from the tower, and how she stopped to rest as the building crumbled.  Even though they had helped carry her down, she stopped at the perfect spot, cocooning them in the stairwell and protecting them.  The tears welled in my eyes as they reunited, the four tough men stooping to hug the lady.  Tonight I watched the real-time footage documented with the fire department.  As they entered tower one, filling the lobby, my body tensed and I had to keep myself from shouting, “get out!” at the television.  As off-duty men arrived at the station and suited up, racing into the destruction, the tears came.  All of the fear and devastation came back.  The bravery and unimaginable humanity overcame me as they did then.  It was all raw and real, just as confusing and painful as the day it happened.

Ten years has been a long time.  I am a different person and the world has changed.  But it also feels like yesterday, like the dust has not yet settled.  In some ways, it hasn’t.  But today, I know that I love this country.  I love the people who love it.  I am humbled to live under the same flag that flew over those men and women who rushed to their deaths to spare others from theirs.  Today was a very different day.

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs, Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, Croats and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it, between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past, between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.”  –Bill Clinton, 1997

A Potter Prologue

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“Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets” –LFO, “Summer Girls”

I love writing sonnets.  I crave the structure of the fourteen lines, find freedom in the pentameter.  I love rhyme schemes and limits–I find them liberating.  Yes, there is something wonderful in writing as you feel, the freedom to create your own, make your mark.  Free verse is beautiful, but I find creativity in rules.  The more that I am restrained, the more I have to work to create, must try to find originality and my voice.  Sonnets are delicious.

As I watched Order of the Phoenix today to get psyched for Deathly Hallows tomorrow, the first lines of this snuck up on me.  I know that I am no Shakespeare.  Lord knows that kind of genius comes but once.  But today I was inspired, and goofy, so I went with.  I remembered how much I loved to write, how I miss structured creative writing (is that even possible?).  So here it is, for all the world to see and mock, because I can and want to.  I needed to write, so I did.  And I love the majestic sonnet, so I used it.  And I am flooded with Harry nostalgia, so I let it inspire me.  In honor of both the Bard and the Boy, here’s my creative mess of the day:

Four houses, all alike in dignity,

In fair Hogwarts, where we lay our scene,

From Magick Most Evile breaks new atrocity,

Where muggle blood makes pure-blood hands unclean.

From forth the fateful scar of He-who-lives,

A connection, to He-whom-we-name-not,

Frightful insight into evil ‘s mind it gives

And drives Rowling’s colorful, winding plot.

To friends and foes they make along the way,

The fearful passage of their fights to live,

O.W.L.s, spells, dragons, and Headless* Nick’s death day,

Through seven tomes, your full attention give.

The “witch” if you, with open mind attend,

What here shall miss, magic shall strive to mend.

“He was not of an age, but for all time!”  –Ben Johnson, To the Memory of my Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

*”Nearly-Headless Nick” would have thrown off my rhythm, but I know better than to call the poor ghost headless!

Unexpected Casualties

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Today, on my way to work, I hit a bird with my car.  It was bizarre and traumatic.  I was driving along, cursing how hot it was in my car and wishing the blasting air would start to cool it, and then it happened.  A small bird flew out from the brush to my right and was right in front of me.  I didn’t see it pass my bumper, and as I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw it tumble down to the road.  I screamed and was so confused about how I had run a bird over with my car.  I felt horrible!

I forgot all about the bird as my hectic day went on.  I got back into my car, tired and ready to be home, and left work.  As I pulled out of the parking lot, I remembered the bird.  I was saddened as I thought about it and, because my mind is frequently in hyper mode, thought about the implications.

It was weird and a (hopefully) once in a life time accident.  But it happened.  We do harm when we don’t intend to, or even understand that we are about to.  We say and do things that seem small, that appear to be innocuous, but they break and kill and wound.  You expect to hit a cat or skunk with your car, but not a bird.  They have defenses, the upper hand.  The odds were against me taking out a flyer, but I did.  So much of what we say or do has no evil intent.  We shouldn’t be able to hurt others with the little jabs, but they leave scars that never fade.  It catches us by surprise how powerful we are, how destructive we are, how fragile we are.

This should be an epiphany.  I should know that I have the ability to change others with small actions, to devastate with my words.  I should remember that the smallest gestures matter, that sticks and stones may shatter bones, but words go after the soul.  I affect others, and may not even realize when it happens.  And yet, the snarky remarks will slip (or spew) out.  The eye rolls will sneak in.  I am me, in all my cruelty and callousness.  I am more than just that: I am kind and considerate, loving and loyal.  But the darkness is there too, defines me just as much as the good.  It is also just as powerful.  If nothing else, this will hopefully cross my mind from time to time and remind me that there are big consequences to all that I do, even when it’s a little accident.

“We’re all damaged, it seems.  Some of us more than others.  We carry the damage with us from childhood, then as grown-ups, we give as good as we get.  Ultimately, we all do damage.  And then, we set about the business of fixing whatever we can.” Gray’s Anatomy, “Damage Case”

To Trust Or Not To Trust, That Is the Question…

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“But the lion told me I must undress first… So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place.  And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully… It was a most lovely feeling.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Lately I have thought a lot about trusting other people.  The nightly news would have us believe that no one can be trusted.  Ever.  I do not think that I am nearly that cynical, but I have realized that I am perhaps not as quick to trust others as I once thought.  I lend quickly and easily.  I do not worry too much about being repaid or having items returned to me, which at times leads to losses.  But as soon as I am asked to trust another person with more than the material, with something deeper, it takes a lot for me to have faith in others. 

Much of my fears stem from personal insecurity and self-consciousness.  That is a given.  I realized this in college.  While involved in ministry, we talked about being open and honest a lot.  In order to have a relationship with God, while He does not need us to tell Him anything, we have to be willing to open up about everything.  We have to bring Him our fears and shortcomings and all the dark things we work hard to hide from everyone, perhaps even ourselves.  This openness with an invisible God is difficult enough, but it extends to our community as well.  It is impossible to be authentic, to work through faith and doubt together without honesty.  We cannot help each other through struggles without being open about our own.  There is truth to all of this, and a freedom too.  Secrets, shame, hidden fears weigh us down in ways we cannot understand until we release them.  However, there is also a huge danger.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if he spoke– ‘You will have to let me undress you.’  I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now…  The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.”  –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This image of Eustace being cleaned by Aslan is one of the most remarkable, salient descriptions of a baptism.  I was reading it recently and was reminded of the tradition of washing feet.  When Jesus does this for His disciples, it is far more than an act of cleanliness.  We talked many times of the symbolism, of the Teacher and Savior stooping down to do servants’ work.  He lowered Himself to serve His followers, literally touching the dirtiest, roughest parts of them and washing it clean.  When done well, the act of following in His footsteps and washing each others’ feet is one of the most touching, beautiful things I’ve witnessed.

I have no issues with washing the feet of another.  I do not hesitate to serve, to cleanse the feet of those I lead.  I don’t mind talking with people about their struggles or hardships, reserving judgement and keeping an open heart and mind.  But I have always been far harder on myself than others.  I hate allowing others to touch my feet.  I know that they are ugly and rough and cringe at the idea of someone touching them.  I feel wholly unworthy.  I talked about this intense discomfort with a friend one night when we were discussing the story in scripture.  It is so hard for me to imagine someone seeing how bad my feet can get, how dark my thoughts can be, how hateful my heart has been, and not reject me.  Letting someone into those ugly dirty places is showing them every reason they should reject me.   I simply cannot do it.

I can talk superficially about struggles I may have.  I do not feign perfection.  I can scrape away some of my own facade and shed a few layers of skin.  I admit that I struggle with insecurity, that I have a hard time really even understanding the meaning of “self-esteem.”  I worry about my family and the struggles that seemed to emerge as I grew older.  I constantly fight a deep feeling of loneliness.  But the real demons I fight, the dark things that haunt me, those are the ones that lay deep beneath layers that I don’t know if I’ll ever peel back.  I may want to, and try to, but the fear of being that vulnerable and open is too great.  I do plenty of things that make it hard for me to make friends without showing people the really damaged parts of me.  There is just too much risk involved in honesty sometimes.

I hope that I can work on this.  I hope someday that I am comfortable in knowing that, no matter who rejects me, I am loved beyond comprehension by my Creator.  I hope that that knowledge is enough.  I hope that I can trust people as much as they deserve.  A part of me thinks that what I have to share is not as messy as I think, that my friends can handle the truth.  A bigger part of me is scared to find out if that’s true.  I’ve come close to complete openness, with a very few people.  Close isn’t quite there, but someday, with someone, I hope that I’ll get there.  Perhaps it will take God’s grace to peel it all away, to get back to the real me inside.  I can only take comfort in knowing that, when I eventually give in, when I let it all go, the pain will be liberating enough to be bearable.

“Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree, because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch, or you might simply get covered in sap, and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors, where it is harder to get a splinter.”  –Lemony Snicket

Fast Friends

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“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.  True friendship is a plant of slow grow, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the application.” –George Washington

 

I understand the sentiment of the wise Washington’s words.  Protect your heart.  It’s a fragile thing and wounds heal slowly, leaving deep scars.  Don’t trust it to just anyone.  It gives you life, it sustains you, so be careful who’s given access to it. 
I’ve learned this lesson again and again, but never really apply it.  I’ve let too many people too close to the core of me, to my most vulnerable places.  I’ve let them just under the surface, kept them at a distance, but they still make a swipe at the important stuff.  I don’t think that they have ever done so intentionally.  Well, perhaps one, but that’s the exception that proves the rule– I let them hurt me, they don’t seek to do so.  Which is ironic, because I’m slow to truly open up and share and be exposed.  I don’t give them ammunition because I know that they don’t need it– it takes very little to do much damage. 

Despite this distance I maintain and all that I keep to myself, emotionally I get close fast.  It takes no time at all for me to be invested and committed to a relationship.  I may never be open about my feelings, but they instantly take hold.  It’s the only part of my life that I dive into head first.  This is where I get hurt.  I’m sacrificing and giving long before it’s earned and, while I’m at least somewhat aware that I should be holding back, I cannot stop this.  I guess I have something to learn from our first president.

However, I also take him to task on his advice.  I know that my feelings have been wounded and my confidence shattered, but I don’t think that I regret my swift loyalty.  In fact, I wish that I was not so reluctant to open up.  When it all boils down, life is short.  I have spent enough of my years lonesome, feeling isolated, and I regret that.  While I may get frustrated or hurt, I don’t regret giving to my friends.  I don’t regret caring.  I don’t think that it’s a mistake to add a little love to someone’s life.

I do think that this leaves me open to pain and disappointment.  Every time a friend misses my birthday after I make sure to call them, it stings.  When I give rides to the airport but am left stranded, it hurts.  But I do not think that I could live with myself, I do not think I would be myself, if I balked because I feared that my friendship would not be reciprocated.  Or, perhaps, that reciprocating would take a form that I did not expect, because people are not perfect. 

As I hang out more with people I work with, people I might not choose to spend time with if we weren’t coworkers, I think about this caution to protect my heart.  Do I too quickly call them friends when, in fact, we’re only acquaintances, slightly more familiar with each other than with others?  Do I expect too much from them because I know how much I’m already willing to give of myself to them?  I don’t know.  I do know that, to quote Grey’s Anatomy , “People are better than no people.”  I appreciate the caution to beware who I allow into my life and how much access I allow them, but I would rather count my friends faster than I should.  I’d rather regret being too open to caring, loving too fast, giving too much, than regret being closed off, alone and unwilling to be a friend.

SecretPost

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When we live such fragile lives/ It’s the best way we survive Dirty Little Secret

While running errands today I heard the All American Rejects song that reminded me of the Post Secret (www.postsecret.blogspot.com) event we organized.  I’ve started checking the site each week since then to read the secrets that people are willing to share and the see how they share them, which is almost as important and interesting.  I know that I submitted a number of postcards when we put on the event, in part to share and in part so that it didn’t come off as a total failure.  I was surprised the night of the event to see how many more people shared their secrets.  Or, if they were like me, how a few people had so many secrets to share.   At a school in a city where so much is invested in appearances, it was both a beautiful and ugly moment when all these things we hid were shared.  Granted, the project is anonymous, so the secrets are still somewhat secret.  There was still something cathartic, something powerful in giving secrets a name, to condensing it into a four by six inch piece of paper. 

It was refreshing and energizing to see such openness and authenticity in a community that was only really linked by the art.  There’s no way to know whose cards those were and if they had any other interactions aside from the project.  It’s almost easier to think that people who don’t know me, who don’t see me every day, were seeing things that I never admit to anyone, whether trivial or deep.  It’s easier to tell someone who I don’t have to maintain contact with that I’m broken and dark and messy because the reality is that I don’t really matter to them.  There is less judgement, less pity, less chance that I’ll ever have to talk about the secret again.  There is also something healing about getting to be that confidant for someone else.  It’s nice to know that you are not alone, but you are also not discovered.

I think it’s interesting the secrets that we keep and those we finally let go.  The trivial habits and vices that we will never reveal and the monumental thoughts and fears that we do and don’t share.  I think that some things just eat away, are so corrosive to a person, that they just have to come out at some point.  Others, in the light of time and distance, become less dangerous so the time comes to allow them to be known.  Still others reveal enough of themselves in small ways, over time, that they simply cannot be denied or hidden any longer.  And still others will never leave our lips.

I want to talk to people more about what I’m feeling– about fears and pain and joy and hopes.  I want to talk honestly and fully.  It’s easy to say that I’m afraid of being alone or that I feel lonely, but it’s another thing all together to really talk about why and what I actually feel, specifics instead of generalities.  I want to be honest with people about how I feel.  I want to tell them what they mean to me, to be up front about feelings that I hide.  But it’s too raw and real and risky to get into all of that, so it stays silent.  There is too much that I do that I’m embarrassed of, that I want to be reassured in, that I hope I’m not alone in.  But the fear of actually being alone, being abnormal, of humiliation is too intense.  So, no matter how much I talk myself up, I decide to be honest, I face my secrets, I keep it all inside.  I hope one day this isn’t true.  I hope that I can be open, show my friends and strangers alike the things I hold inside, like I was in my postcards.  One day I want to choose to keep my secrets back, not let them keep me.  I don’t think we’ll ever not have secrets– sometimes it’s nice to keep something to yourself.  I just want to feel comfortable enough not to keep myself to myself.