Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Power of Vulnerability

“What happens when people open their hearts?...They get better.” Haruki Murakami 

Stephanie Circa 1974

This holiday season I have decided to give myself the gift of stepping fully and honestly into vulnerability. Before there was Brené Brown, before it was in vogue to be transparent with emotions, I drowned in mine.

When I was in Mrs. Emerson's fourth grade class in my progressive, public, elementary school in Los Angeles in the 70s, I felt myself hiding what couldn't be hidden. Despite that time in American culture when many post movements proudly sprang forth in Los Angeles and elsewhere―post-segregation, post-poverty, post 50s exclusionism―I knew it wasn't safe to show my true emotions. I pressed my face into the high-backed, green seat of our school bus as tears rolled down my cheeks. Our big yellow bus sat in the near-empty parking lot in the oceanfront town of Long Beach waiting for what is now called the Aquarium of the Pacific to open.

It was February and the California winter air filled with spikes of drizzle and the roar of the Pacific Ocean a rolling monster with angry waves. It was a day us LA natives dressed in sweaters and hats as the temperate struggled to reach 60 degrees. I saw a homeless man sleeping on a bench near the aquarium. He wore raggedy clothes and had an incredibly sunburned face―the skin on his ruddy cheeks hardened as if shellacked. Three newspaper pages were spread over his body for warmth and the remainder of that paper under his head as a pillow. His swollen feet were unable to fit in the filthy tennis shoes that sat abandoned on the bench next to his feet. A flood of compassion welled up inside of me as I looked, and then the tears. It didn't take long before my fourth grade peers were out of their seats pointing and laughing. I am certain the same compassion welled up in them, too, but they, unlike me, were better at donning their masks of laughter.

When I began this blog, it was with the intention to share my spiritual journey after a difficult 19-year marriage and harrowing divorce. Perhaps all divorces are harrowing, and all marriages difficult, but my wanting to share came from a place of joy, a place of learning, and a wonderful understanding that my marriage and divorce were gifts.

Recently, I received a negative comment. Yes, I am aware that when you wear your emotions on your blogging sleeve, some may point and laugh. I choose, however, to honor the girl who hid her tears and is now the woman who is beautifully flawed and wholly human. I boldly choose to let my disappointment roll down my cheeks for all to see. 

I remember tearing up in a New York City writing workshop when a fellow workshop member harshly commented on my short story. Later, our instructor, a celebrated writer, told me in private that I had to stand up for my work by developing a thicker skin. I am grateful for her advice. But over a decade later as a writing teacher myself, I stand up for my words by letting my emotions flow for all to see and choosing to point out to my current writing students that what is not perfected in us as humans and writers will simply fall away if we keep our eye on what is good.