Vulnerability

Vulnerability can be a terrifying feeling to have. We spend much of our lives developing strategies to mitigate this, this underlying awareness of our own vulnerability, our mortality, our living in an unpredictable world. Perhaps we stay on the surface and only focus on what feels good, uplifting, or orderly. Perhaps we fixate on the vulnerability and spend hours of life worrying about what might happen. Perhaps we get stuck in grief, or stuck chasing the substances and relationships that keep us from feeling the anxiety and vulnerability below.

When giant catastrophes happen, such as the many that have occurred this week around the world, the anxiety and pain can feel palpable and hard to deny. Everything we try to do to contain or ignore it doesn’t seem to work. I noticed myself, as I watched footage of explosions in Boston more than was healthy, feeling a sense of urgency around their resolution. I wanted to know why it happened, who caused it, and I wanted the perpetrators to be found and contained as quickly as possible. This swiftness of reaction is one that I find completely understandable, and inherently more problematic. I reminded myself often, as I jumped to conclusions, of how little I knew about the circumstances. I remembered that such swift conclusiveness in the face of little evidence almost inevitably leads to the kind of confusion we’ve seen in the 24-hour news cycle this week.

What I suspect is that this wish for closure, containment, and wish for a strong protective authority to enclose me comes out of my discomfort with my own vulnerability. So many painful things we do in life, I think, share this root. Becoming addicted to some drug, behavior, or relationship that causes us suffering. Rejecting someone before he rejects me. Insisting I cannot do a task when I’ve never tried. These feel like a child’s early attempts to bring solidity and structure to a world that feels unsafe. When we do this as a society, we make collective mistakes whose impacts far exceed our capacity to manage. We get into wars that drain our resources, injure our people, and contribute immeasurable suffering to communities. We empower the police to erode our own rights and protections, break up families, and imprison or kill people who may only be guilty of having a particular skin color. We do not use our resources and power with skill and effectiveness, addressing the core problems.

What I am trying to invite in myself is compassion for the fear and vulnerability that’s arising, a willingness to contribute to those who were directly impacted and suffering the most, and an openness of mind to what evidence is present. To slow down a bit. To feel vulnerable and angry and continue to listen to what is unfolding. To recognize even now the urge to have some answer that will wrap up the problem, and to try to open my ears a little more and realize that I am one person among billions attempting to understand and create a meaningful life in the world. I share my humanity with those who are perpetrators and victims, and I contribute what I can to ease our collective suffering.

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