Aidan has chosen vulnerability as this month’s Here Year theme, and I’m thrilled by that selection. I hear that word a lot. People ask why I’m so comfortable making my self vulnerable on this blog, and I also am quick to say that it’s people who are real and vulnerable themselves who most interest me.
But what does the word really mean? I fear that “vulnerability” has become a bit of a catchphrase, in the vein of “authentic,” and I want to really understand it. I turned to Google and found one definition that I particularly liked: “the inability to withstand the effects of a hostile environment.” It reminded me of years ago, when I learned about a syndrome called atopy: “a group of symptoms that demonstrate acute sensitivity to the world. I am reactive to the air, to the very stuff of everyday life. Just living in the world is a stress on my system. This seems like a physical manifestation of my emotional porousness.”
So, yes. I am familiar with vulnerability. When I talk about being porous to the world, maybe I am simply describing vulnerability. But it’s not quite that simple. People ask me all the time whether writing this blog makes me feel vulnerable. I’m not sure I know how to answer that, to be honest. In some ways, yes. Clearly I write about personal topics and share the prickly, complicated contents of my heart and spirit. But in other ways, no. And candidly, part of the reason I’ve backed away from writing a book-length memoir is my unwillingness to share certain aspects of my life. I’m comfortable being vulnerable when it comes to my own issues, wrinkles, and flaws. No question. But when it comes to being open about others in ways that make them vulnerable, I balk. This is true with my husband and children in particular, and I realized that with a book-length memoir the expectation for disclosure was much higher and more universal than it is on my blog.
So here I am, happily sharing things that are true and honest, trying to be candid about the good and the bad. One of my favorite posts I’ve ever written, It’s Not All Shiny, dealt with this particular question, that of the gulf between reality and perception. I share photos on Instagram with the hashtag #everydaylife in part to try to show the good and bad and messy and beautiful. It’s true that one of my most fundamental goals in life is to see the glory and the holiness even in the most mundane moments. I wrestle with this, because I doubt myself and think: does that mean I’m glossing over the ugliness? But I don’t think so, ultimately.
Maybe the practice of showing what is and trying to see the beauty in it is the essence of vulnerability. Do you think so?
For me, vulnerability is wound around being present to, and in, my daily experience. I can’t really engage with my life – with the dark hole at the center of it, with its joys and pains – without letting down my guard. The practice of showing up here day after day for years on end has forced me to confront both the beautiful and the difficult aspects of this life of mine. That has made me vulnerable. To myself, to those close to me, to anyone reading. I’m still understanding the precise contours of the relationship between vulnerability and presence, but I know they’re strongly related to each other.
I’m looking forward to thinking about and writing about vulnerability this month (I also have a great guest post planned!) and am eager to hear your thoughts on the topic.