It isn’t easy to be truly vulnerable, the kind of vulnerability where you bare your heart and soul, out there for all to see. It involves risk to share that innermost part of you, knowing that your gift of honesty may not always be received with understanding or appreciation. With emotional integrity at stake, why would someone choose to be vulnerable to others? Perhaps because while there is risk, the rewards of deeper connection are so worth the cost.
Time after time in my life, I have opened my heart to the world, often to people who were not able to understand or reciprocate, but I don’t regret it. It is painful when opening yourself up doesn’t go well- it can leave lasting scars. However, I can’t seem to close myself off- a defect in character that I don’t regret. When I was a child, I wanted desperately for my father to accept me, to be proud of me. I tried so hard to open up to him- not an easy thing when I saw him once or twice a year. He was The Colonel to the core, and I never could break through his barriers, though at times I saw glimpses of hope. I couldn’t seem to give up on him, though he hurt me deeply many times. Maybe my stubbornness was because of the unwavering love of my mother, who spent her life being vulnerable, no matter the outcome. While going through papers after Mom died, I found a long-forgotten letter that I wrote to my father, but never sent. In my childish scrawl, I opened up to him, telling him that I loved him, but that he needed to understand the challenges we faced living on so little money, my heart clearly on my sleeve. While it made me sad for the little girl who wrote the letter, I was thankful that Mom had saved it, as it gave me not only a part of my own history, but a reminder of all I have to be grateful for now.
There have been many other times when I have opened up to people with quite a different result. As a teacher and a musician, being vulnerable is an important part of being successful. I can’t teach students effectively unless I am tuned in and compassionate, especially with those who are struggling. In performance, music can only really reach someone with any depth if you open your heart. Even though our vulnerability is through the conduit of an instrument, the same courage has to be there, allowing us to trust our instincts and let the emotion flow through the music. I have found over the years that with each challenging or joyful life experience, my ability to play with deeper musical connection grows, becoming so much more rich and full. I never regret any experience, no matter how difficult, as it all works together to make me better and stronger over time.
I suppose my biggest ‘stand’ at being vulnerable other than my relationship with Dan, came when I began blogging about the last year of my mother’s life, especially her last weeks. Some people close to me questioned my sharing of such intimate experiences, but to me, there was no choice. It was about me being honest with the world, and sharing my deep love for my mother. Writing is another place where vulnerability is important. To connect with those who read your work, means being honest and open. I always hope that when we are brave and share those innermost thoughts and feelings, that someone somewhere will be encouraged in some way, and know that they are not alone. I know that has been so in my case, and I have been grateful for those writers who chose honesty.
Being vulnerable isn’t about spilling your emotional guts or sharing private information- you can be funny and lighthearted and be vulnerable, too- it is just about being honest; honest with others, and honest with yourself in whatever way is true to you. Not always easy to do, but in those times when I peel back the layers and bare my soul without fear to another human being, I feel the most incredible gift of freedom….and I give the gift of myself.