When I hear the word, I reflexively gird myself for an onslaught of messy fuckery. I prepare for someone to come for my soul, my essence, my heart..not because they should or would, but because they could. My life has been about anticipating violence(s), not in order to simply deflect them but to dismember their launching pads whether they be ideologies, political structures or people. Survival taught me how to get to tomorrow with the least amount of scars. It is important. It is necessary. But there comes a point where one must move from surviving to thriving.
The first time I realized that there was fundamental difference between the two, it was in the midst of an unexpected relationship with someone who lived passionately. I was passionate too, passionate about surviving and winning. I had no time to smell the roses–my only interaction with them would be ascertain whether their thorns were a threat to my flesh and if so, I would cut them down without warning or delay. By viewing his interaction with the world around him–as well as the silly mistakes he would often make–I became intimately aware of my inability to connect with those I was surrounded by. I read folks as either foe or inconsequential. I didn’t remember names. I saw through people, directly to my goals. I had plans and no one would get in the way–not even myself.
Protecting myself from folks who would wish me ill had worked brilliantly for decades. After all, I was still alive. More than that, I had managed to emerge from a troubled youth without any felonies. I had no record of violence or addiction. I was more or less healthy and would become the first in my immediate family to graduate high school, the first to attend college and then to do it all for free. Shit was working well. However in my one-track push toward success and survival I had given up all access to or capacity for joy. When we see people as either threats or useless, we disallow them to pour anything worthwhile into our lives. In my refusal to become a jack-ass whisperer, I became an island of callous, cold, intellectual-warfare, unable and/or unwilling to emote and covering myself in a tower of protective logic and a moat of accomplishments.
In order to receive that which I had always wanted–happiness–I had to free myself from the prison of past traumas. I had earnestly thought that in walling myself off from prospective pains, I was setting myself up for future power. In fact, the opposite occurred. In my unfeeling state I was unable to reach and encounter the truths of my past, a necessary internal process of reconciliation that would allow me to turn pain into power. Slowly, I began to confront my true fear: that perhaps if I allowed my true self to show, the complexity of me, I would be denied once more as unworthy and that might be the pain that killed me. I had survived on rage for so long, that I feared the emptiness of letting of go, of being free, of living for something..as opposed to surviving in spite of something/one. I had been surviving in spite of trauma and oppression as opposed to living through and for my healing, joy, liberation and love.
Looking back, I realize why I privilege that relationship in my history of loving. It was the first time I had loved someone outside of myself or my immediate family–since I had learned to master the twin arts of survival and callous autopilot. It was there that I learned to give and receive love, to hold uncertainty in my bosom, to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, to remain bare, unclothed in the garments of false-stoicism and not grow weary or fearful. I did not shot shrivel up and die. In fact, it was a rebirthing of sorts. I began to re-know myself. I found my laugh. I found the fearful, fearless young boy within me. When my rage subsided I remembered a child who climb trees and jump from to the other, with near of falling. I met the young man who was the class clown, complete with a 4.0. I remembered prayer and the complicated feelings I felt about praying to a man. I remembered skinny dipping in rivers and ponds after dark, cow-tipping in the summer heat and paintballing with the white boys. Poetry returned to my lips. The podium was once again home. I was home. I processed my broken heart and my exhausted spirit and they came home to be healed, together, as one.
From then on I lived and loved through many more heartbreaks and traumas and I became much more free with every experience. Each rupture of my heart was a rebirthing of my commitment to loving. My dance with vulnerability had saved me from myself. It reminded me I was still alive and for that reason alone, I had to experience living, a gift that unfolded second by second. Now I embrace vulnerability because without it, we simply have survival but with it we granted a lease on living.