“Each of us has lived through some devastation, some loneliness, some weather superstorm or spiritual superstorm. When we look at each other we must say, I understand. I understand how you feel because I have been there myself. We must support each other because each of us is more alike than we are unalike.” (Maya Angelou)
Vulnerability. A sometimes scary word. An action that takes intentionality and is hard. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy. Over the past two years I have struggled with feelings of depression and numbness and bitterness and hurt. I isolated those feeling and didn’t give them the room to be felt. It is hard for me to bear my heart and let people see what I have long perceived to be a weak side of me. But that isolation can only last for so long before the yearning for being known and for belonging start to crack at the walls. “Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with it’s yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.” (Louise Erdrich)
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” (Frederick Buechner)
Stories are important. Sharing in our humanity and letting ourselves be on the receiving end of grace is important. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy. But with it comes hope. With it comes joy. And with it comes love. “Hard things are holy ground for redemption. The tension is a tangible place for hope.” (Hannah Nicole)
This past summer I began to heal. This past summer I was vulnerable with the people I love most in this world for the first time. I was sitting in my bathroom, throwing up from a bad reaction to anti-depressants and I simply realized that I could not do it anymore. I sat there, flawed and broken and feeling so alone. The people in my life are incredible beyond words. I wasn’t alone because they weren’t there for me, I was alone because I had isolated myself with my feelings. I was alone because I wasn’t raw and real and vulnerable with my community. That is not to say that everyone needs to know everything, but I was isolating myself from the unconditional love of people who wanted to know.
Vulnerability doesn’t come easy. Opening myself up and digging hurt. And it was really hard and uncomfortable. I didn’t talk to many people about it but I did talk. First with my mama. Then with my long time mentor and friend, who sat on the floor with me holding my hands and crying with me. Feeling with me and feeling for me. I started going to counselling, where my counsellor has also cried with me and shared in our common humanity with me. There has been healing in the commonness of our humanity. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy.
I had the opportunity to take a class this semester that revolved around our stories. Each week, someone would go to the front of the class and for thirty minutes they would tell us of their experiences. Of the pain and the joy. Of the brokenness and of the healing. On October 7th I stood in front of the class and told my story. For the first time in my life, I stood in front of a group of people and told them everything. All of the feelings and all of the experiences. I couldn’t breathe and it was hard. But vulnerability doesn’t come easy. I was expecting silence when I finished. I was expecting a few sympathetic smiles and a polite question or two. Instead, these people wrapped me whole-heartedly in love. They reached out and covered me with compassion and understanding and grace and kindness. For the first time in my life I recognized the power in story-telling and vulnerability.
And with the breaking of dawn, comes hope.
“No sun outlasts its sunset but will rise again and bring the dawn.” (Maya Angelou)
“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Part of my healing process has been allowing myself to feel again. The sadness and the hurt and the confusion and the pain. But it has also meant feeling the joy and wonder more deeply. “Further up and further in.”
“I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain.” (Sylvia Plath)
And so began a season of recalling what it feels like to be alive. Of remembering that our lives are wondrous and that they will not last forever. Of remembering beauty.
One of my classmates asked me if I had ever used photography to express how I am feeling. The honest answer was no. I used it to tell the stories of how others feel, but never myself. That would require vulnerability and I was unaware and scared. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy. But her question never left my mind.
“Could I do this?” “What would this look like?”
Amy is a long time friend of mine. Someone who knows my heart and has shared hers in the same way. A number of weeks ago we sat in the corner of a room sharing our hurt. Not dwelling in it, but opening up to it. Despite the people all around we talked quietly and openly. And we made a conscious and intentional decision not to let bitterness win.
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” (Kurt Vonnegut)
I had forgotten beauty. I had forgotten grace. I had forgotten redemption. Even though it might not have been outwardly obvious, I had let bitterness rule. But no more. Hope is on the move.
So Amy and I dreamt up this shoot. On a mountain top. “Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you ‘my beloved daughter,’ ‘my beloved son,’ ‘my beloved child.’ To pray is to let that voice speak to the centre of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.” (Henri Nouwen)
“This is what the Lord says: “The people who survive the sword will find favour in the wilderness; I will come to give rest to Israel.” The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31: 2-4)
Courage. Vulnerability. Hope. Redemption. Joy.
“He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Coming down that mountain, I breathed deeply and took care to notice the life around me. And in that moment, I could feel myself getting better. I felt the roots of healing beginning to take place in my soul and I began to feel myself come alive again. Vulnerability doesn’t come easy. But dear ones, it is so worth the risk.