VulnerabilityThe Price and Power of Love

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Friday, December 14, 2012


The Price and Power of Love

After my divorce, I bought a little house for my eight-year-old son and me. I was exhilarated and terrified in equal measures, but my son and I visited often while it was under construction, had fun decorating and moving in, and I looked forward to making it a safe and welcoming home. So I wasn't prepared for what happened on our first night in our new house. My son had difficulty sleeping and when I went in to sit on his bed, he asked if he could go back to Dad's house. "Why?" I asked him. "Well...." I could see him choosing his words carefully. "What would happen if a burglar came, Mom, now that....well, now that there's no man in our house?"

I hugged my boy, did some problem-solving with him, and yes, let him call his Dad to spend the night in his old bed. His sense of vulnerability--and my inability to promise him perfect safety and peace--hurt my heart. For a long time, he asked me to stay up until he'd fallen asleep; he just felt safer when he knew I was awake and paying attention.

Ten years later, that same little boy left on a snowy January day for a grand adventure in Costa Rica, attending a semester of university there. His plane was the last one to leave Reno that stormy afternoon and I can still see his face peering back at me as his stepdad drove him to the airport. The emails he sent us never arrived, and I will never forget the heavy sense of dread that settled in my core during that long silence until I learned--four days later--that he was safe.

Earlier today, tragedy touched yet another American community. The media has become an endless loop of video footage with experts, journalists, crying parents and terrified children. Friends and clients have called me to ask what they should say to their children and to tell me it's all they can do to let their kids finish the school day without pulling them out and bringing them home. The discussions have already begun about mental health and gun control, and they are discussions we need to have. But there is something deeper that needs to be addressed, and that is this: There is no way to avoid the fact that love makes us vulnerable.

In her books and TED talks, researcher Brene Brown explores the ideas that hope is a result of struggle, and that courage is born out of vulnerability, not strength. Yet as a culture, we Americans avoid vulnerability at all costs. Until 9/11, we believed that terrorism happened in countries far away from our own. Until Columbine, we believed that we could create a safe, just, and perfect world for our kids if we worked at it hard enough. Sandy Hook is another heartbreaking reminder that the price of love is vulnerability, yet it is also one of our greatest opportunities for strength.

Writer Barbara Kingsolver once said that being a parent means being forever condemned to walk around with your heart outside your body. If you have a child, you know just how true that is. My son is now 28, yet I still worry about him, fret over his choices, and pray when I know he's off on another adventure. There will be a great deal of discussion in the days and weeks ahead about how to prevent future tragedies, yet the unavoidable reality is that we can never promise our children a life without the risk of pain, loss, and suffering. We cannot create perfect happiness or perfect safety for our children and I believe it's a mistake even to try. 

Instead, we need to have the courage to look deep within our own hearts and to name and make space for the fears and emotions we find there. Then we need to help our children find words for their own fears, and the ability to live despite them. We need to talk together with honesty, to listen, to weep with our children, and to offer support, but also to teach them the skills it takes to handle disappointment, anxiety, and fear. Like it or not, they are as much a part of life as are joy, pride, and success. 

Take time today and tomorrow and the day after to sit in silence and connect with those you love. Disconnect yourself from the 24-hour media circus; remember that the images and stories on TV and radio can be deeply traumatic to your children. Watch what you say when you're talking about the tragedy over their heads; they do listen to you and they catch the power of your feelings. But most important, have the courage to face and to sit with your vulnerability. It is the knowledge that we can lose the people we love most on earth that can help us appreciate and nurture our children and partners, our friends and community. Look those you love in the eye tonight and tell them how much you love them. 

Yes, the world can be a scary place, and a deeply unfair one. But the courage that grows from vulnerability will give you the ability to find joy and peace in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity. It is our best hope.

| Posted by klop | Friday, December 14, 2012|


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