The Secret Life of Vulnerability
by Hillary Rain
As we've rounded the curve and landed, at last, into the crunchy crispness of autumn, I feel like I've curved into a soul-season where the brilliant hues of courage, resolve, bravery, and boldness are washed with an ethereal sheen of hope. Sometimes the simple living of life requires the gentle determination to say yes, I will take another step, and yes, I will love, and yes, I will do this again. It is shuddering-brave and intentional: I will embrace the shadowed rooting of my soul which is an ever-present paradox—just like a tree rooted in the blackened earth where she finds strength to burst up, up into light.
“The Thing Is ...
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.” —Ellen Bass
I've come to think of Autumn as my own kind of New Year, ripe with new beginnings, fresh perspectives, quiet closure, and heady anticipation. I am lavish with my days, peppering them with spicy spontaneity and uncorking the healing, warm honey of I-love-you-agains. Newness and sparkly change greet me with the same brisk winds sending orange, gold, and amber plummeting to the earth. I stand like a solitary tree feeling the rush of it, the dizzying swirl of chaos and joy. I feel this shift, bone-deep, whenever earth releases summer's angst. We surrender together. It's like tasting the long-awaited fruit of hope seeded tenderly in spring, carefully watered through the heat of August, and ushered–sweet, golden and ripe–into Fall.
The sun and I meet for coffee in the mornings. I snuggle under my softest blanket, fingers wrapped around a warm, earthy mug as she creeps over the trees, slips onto my balcony, and spills through the swaying array of prisms I’ve hung across the sliding glass door. Between us, the leaves from a dense stretch of trees blush amber and gently drop away. They do this every year, undress slow just before winter.
Outside my window an amber leaf softly falls.
A frigid wind swoops down from the North, grabs me by the shoulders and shakes, shakes til I can’t breathe. I blow on a window and draw moons in the steam. My fingertips are numb. Outside, the treetops rattle like bones. A flurry of orange and gold release like a flock of startled blackbirds and swirl through the air in wild autumnal flight. Later, cold rain begins to fall, pressing amber into the ground, leaves flattened, limp against the earth. I light a candle, a feeble effort to delay the growing chill.
I am an artist. I use the languages of lens and word as the portal vulnerability slides through, with or without my permission. Most often it is without and I look up with the devastation of what have I done? darkening my eyes. I want to reel in. Erase. I’m too seen. I’ve shared too much. I’m too bare. Gave too much away. Too too too. I thought it would get easier with time, this continual undressing, but vulnerable keeps on being vulnerable and discomfort keeps on being uncomfortable. Exposure to the elements makes my heart pound. My skin is raw and chafed.
Trees become bare when barest hurts the most.
To be vulnerable is to allow for the possibility of suffering. But it’s also to allow for the possibility of living. We can’t have one without the other, not really, say the trees. The choice to go on living when the seasons bare us down, leave us exposed to what can wound us is not a matter of if it comes, but when. Do we remain rooted? Or run? During our tender rooting process, shelter can save our lives. But one day, so can vulnerability. So can the acceptance of suffering, for in the alchemy of life, they are holy. And when the heart is ready to endure the harsh seasons, that path? The vulnerable way is the way of strength.
An amber leaf softly falls.
It’s like that. It is step after step. It is next after next. Leaf after falling leaf. It’s moving slow to the rhythm of seasons. It’s the closed eyes, the hot tear, the deep shuddering breath, the white knuckles on the steering wheel. Then it becomes the lifting of the lashes. The swiping of the cheek. The exhale. The release. An amber leaf falling. A new morning dawns and the sun creeps across barren trees, slips onto your balcony and lands on soulskin that’s just a little more bare than before.
By Winter Solstice the leaves will be gone, save for a few tenacious, crinkled brown skeletons where life used to be. They will rattle on gnarled branches whenever the wind passes by, and when night storms come they will surrender themselves to the wild. Some morning I’ll wake to find a magical hush settled across the world, a breathless drapery of white, all grace, and what remains: the silent acceptance of oaks and elms, maples, beech and ornamental pears, naked and serene in the harshest of seasons, their most vulnerable of all.
And somehow the most beautiful.
Hillary Rain believes that the deepest hungers of humanity are among the desires to express the self & the soul, and to live rooted, full-bodied, and meaningful lives. She believes you don't have to wait until you lose that twenty pounds—or fifty—or one hundred—before you embrace yourself with tenderness. You don't have to wait until you're out of debt, or in a better house, or finished with school before you allow yourself to look up, look around, and revel in your life.