Falling in Love

Love is… A Short Reverie on Being Vulnerable

Every day my husband or daughter or other people I love walk out the door, I worry. I tell them stupid things like to look both ways when they cross the street, like that last word and cliche advice will bring them safely home. I hate how vulnerable it makes me feel when they leave my safe keeping.

Vulnerability has been a hot topic ever since Brene Brown did her first talk about her research on the subject at TedxHouston in June of 2010. However, the feeling has been part of us forever, motivating us to protect ourselves in ways that, no doubt, kept the species alive. Not wanting to be vulnerable meant we constructed tools and weapons, shelter from the elements, communities who figured out that they were better able to weather nature and life’s hardships and surprises together rather than alone.

So, maybe we are hard-wired to try to avoid vulnerability. And maybe that has served us, largely, well. However, like all core competencies and coping mechanisms that develop under one set of circumstances, our self-protection has its limits — the place in which it tips into a liability.

Forrest Church, Unitarian Universalist minister and writer, when he was dying of esophageal cancer wrote a book about the experience. In it he said something I will never forget so haunting and so beautiful and so true all at once. He said, “Love is grief’s advance party.”

How awful and how undeniable are those five simple words. The minute we love, the minute we give someone or something part of the real estate of our heart, invite it to dwell that close, is the minute we know we will someday grieve, hurt, heave in the pain of what will get taken from us (if we don’t get taken from it first). But what is the price of avoiding all that pain? Not to love?

Clearly, vulnerability is part of life — the part we should try hard to protect against and all the parts we cannot protect against. But then there are those last parts, the ones we don’t want to protect against because the price of doing so would be far too high, too dear.

A full life, a joyful one, an awake life, has to dance all the time, by choice, in part, with just how vulnerable we are.

And know that that is just the entrance fee for Life. What you and I ante at the table in order to be able to play, really play, our hand.

I suppose, too, however, that I will still yell meaningless advice before the door closes in the hopes it casts some protective spell on those I love. And breathe a sigh of relief they return home safe again. For as long as they do.

Vanessa Rush Southern

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Looking for the sacred in the ordinary. Living the good struggle…in San Francisco.

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