Since I wrote that first post about Ruby, I’ve been thinking about how to continue. I contemplated sharing the riveting story of “How I Found Out I was Pregnant.” I’ll get to that, eventually. But I realized that the chronological, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ version of Rafael’s story would not only be boring it would also be extraordinarily safe. Because sharing the blow-by-blow of events is not hard for me. Feeling my feelings and exposing my open, broken heart, on the other hand, is terrifying, uncharted territory.
The day after I gave birth to Rafa’s little body, we went out to lunch for my mom’s birthday (I insisted we do it). We ran into some friends who had heard what happened. They said only one word: fuerza. Strength, as in: have strength. But it is not strength that I need. Strength I got. Strength got me through pregnancy without a hitch, working and travelling until the end of my seventh month. Strength is what helped me survive labor and delivery of a stillborn baby. What I need most now is softness, surrender, vulnerability. This is what Rafael’s conception, growth and death is inviting from me. Vulnerability comes from the Latin vulnus, meaning “wound.” Or as one poet* put it: “the place where you’re open to the world whether you want to be or not.”
When I went back to therapy a few years ago, it became clear that conceiving, gestating and birthing a baby meant letting down my armor, allowing a crack in the protective walls that encased my fragile heart. I recognized that it would require slowing down and opening space in my hyper-full life for something new to emerge. I had to soften and learn to feel. A few weeks after Rafael’s death and birth, I wrote one line in my journal, a gentle yet firm reminder: “Keep your heart open.”
Feeling is something we say is so important. But in my own experience, I find it a damn hard thing to actually do. Not talking about feeling. Not contemplating the many benefits of being in touch with our emotions. Not appearing vulnerable before others. No. Actually being IN THE FEELING of any given moment. Fully present in whatever is arising. For me, this is one of the gifts of Rafael’s death. I also know that it is why I am married to Yeyo. He is one excellent feeler and my life-long mirror and guide through the unfamiliar territory of emotion. I am forever grateful for Yeyo’s tender heart which shows me – somehow – that I also have permission from the universe to feel.
I don’t want to share too many words here. I fear I will type away the feelings. I know now that the language of the heart is often not expressed in concepts understood by the mind. My brain sometimes catches a glimpse of what the feelings are suggesting. But then my meaning-making tendencies quickly jump in to analyze and emotion is upstaged again. Feelings speak in some foreign tongue. Their language is something I can barely understand. Maybe it’s a kind of poetry.
Last night, I heard one of my favorite poets – the exquisite David Whyte – recite a poem that tore through me and left me sitting up in bed… wailing. It’s a poem called “Santiago” about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. As David explains in the introduction to his reading: our children will always, at some point, break our hearts. My child’s coming and passing have broken my heart. I hope it will stay that way forever: broken open. This is vulnerability.
I highly recommend that you take twelve minutes to hear what David Whyte has to say about endings, destinations, partnership, parenthood and vulnerability as well as his breathtaking reading of this piece. You’ll find the recording and transcript on the Poetry at the On Being Gathering podcast. Here’s the poem:
The road seen, then not seen, the hillside
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you came
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place,
no matter that it sometimes had to take your promise from you,
no matter that it always had to break your heart along the way:
the sense of having walked from far inside yourself
out into the revelation, to have risked yourself
for something that seemed to stand both inside you
and far beyond you, and that called you back
in the end to the only road you could follow, walking
as you did, in your rags of love and speaking in the voice
that by night became a prayer for safe arrival,
so that one day you realized that what you wanted
had actually already happened and long ago and in the dwelling place
in which you lived in before you began,
and that every step along the way, you had carried
the heart and the mind and the promise
that first set you off and then drew you on and that you were
more marvelous in your simple wish to find a way
than the gilded roofs of any destination you could reach:
as if, all along, you had thought the end point might be a city
with golden domes, and cheering crowds,
and turning the corner at what you thought was the end
of the road, you found just a simple reflection,
and a clear revelation beneath the face looking back
and beneath it another invitation, all in one glimpse:
like a person or a place you had sought forever,
like a bold field of freedom that beckoned you beyond;
like another life, and the road still stretching on.
— David Whyte, Pilgrim
* this is a quote from David Whyte’s introduction to the poem “Santiago”
11 thoughts on “Vulnerability”
yes! art, music, poetry, dreams…these realms permit raw feeling, for me. Love you Aerin.
Mmmmwah! Thank you, sister. You’re an inspiration to ME!
Some days ago I wrote in my journal: “sólo se sobrevive al desamor escribiendo”. I’m glad you’re doing this, not only for you but for me too. For the space and permission to just feel. I love you.
Siempre… you’re the one who always reminds me to feel all the feelings, hermanita. Te quiero un montón.
Being vulnerable is the lot of teachers and poets—the good ones! 🙂 May I share your story with my blog readers, pleae?
Of course you may, Jonathan.
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Querida Aerin, tus palabras me conmueven hasta el fondo de mi alma. Tus pensamientos se vuelven míos y comparto del todo tus sentimientos.
Gracias, querida. Estoy súper contenta que estás leyendo. Mucha luz y miles de abrazos para tí y la familia allá.
Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
BEING VULNERABLE IS A RISK—BUT FOR POETS AND WRITERS IT CAN BE A PLUS!