Owning our Story, Embracing our Vulnerability
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerability is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Yesterday morning we both, while at different places, experienced shared, tandem moments of mutual vulnerability that proved the power of the words, above, by author and Professor Brown.
I (Michael) was given the last minute opportunity to speak at a church service, to substitute for the pastor, who had the flu.
What do I talk about with so little time for preparation?
I scrambled to come up with an idea quickly. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, thankfully. Under pressure, I decided to simply talk about the past few months, sharing how challenging they had been. I thought I’d try to put into perspective what were the lessons I think I learned from the losses of my grandmother and sister-in-law and our family dog and the births of our two beautiful granddaughters. I also reflected on the changes in our lives that our son Matthew’s spinal cord injury and surgery have brought. I especially focused on my grandmother in my message and on her unconditional love for her family.
After the service, a young mother came up to me, with tears in her eyes and embraced me.
You’ll never know how much your words meant to me today. I needed so much to hear them. My grandmother, who was also 96, died this week. Her funeral was on Friday. The things you shared about your grandmother and how you have felt, well … you’ll just never know …
Then her husband came over.
Thank you for telling what you did. It was so appropriate for us. To tell a story and be vulnerable in it like you were, really helped us to relate and be drawn in. It means a lot.
We were connected, the three of us, unexpectedly, in our shared grief and longing, our search for understanding and perspective, our gratitude at having grandmothers who loved us and showed us constantly that they did. I realized that I had struck a resonant chord with them, one that reassured them and reminded them that they were not alone.
I (Tom) was also presented with an opportunity to share some of my own struggles as the father of four children ages five and under. In the middle of the service at my church one of our twins was becoming increasingly more fidgety and vocal. My wife was working yesterday, so I was there alone with our kids. Not wanting to disrupt the service I moved to a quitter location outside the worship space to calm our daughter down. An older woman, a visitor to the church, happened to notice that I was trying to manage on my own with the two babies and she followed me out of the service. She began to talk with me about how she was the mother of twins, who are now adults, and had also raised four children. She started asking questions about what it’s been like with these small kids.
I could have said,
We’re doing fine. We’re managing well. Thanks for asking.
But none of that was true.
It isn’t always fine. I don’t always feel as if I’m managing well.
But yesterday I decided to take a risk and open up with a stranger. We had the connection of the twins and our other children. I shared honestly about the challenges and the busyness of trying to parent well. And the way in which she responded was really what I think caused me to want to share more with her. She was incredibly compassionate, gracious, understanding and kind,
I remember those days and what it was like.
Her response encouraged me to share more and more about myself. What could have been a quick, superficial five-minute conversation turned into nearly an hour of sharing that was really healing for me.
Risks worth taking, yesterday. For both of us.
Anytime we can share more deeply and openly with one another, as Brené Brown says,
Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.
Those were real connections we each had yesterday morning. And in the connections, while darkness was explored, there emerged rays of warming and encouraging light.