My most well read blog, "Quiet Desperation" took 2 weeks to reach an impressive amount of views. But surprisingly, it only took 3 days for my last blog, "The Reason Why I Don't Cry" to reach those same numbers and then surpass it quickly. I think some people might have opened the blog in search for an answer to that phrase and as it turned out, most of them could relate.
One of the blog readers asked me a question regarding the last blog that made me look deep into myself, into my past and inevitably, into my childhood. I'm not one to argue therapy but I must admit I have questionable respect for psychiatrists and their long, soft couches, and the delving into the past so we could answer questions like why can't we sleep in the dark alone or why do we have such phobias against spiders? Maybe this is because I come from a different school of thought. I am, after all, a behavior analyst and as such I tend to frown on the "mentalist" point-of-view. Nevertheless, that hasn't kept me from intermittently acting like a psuedo pyschotherapist who try to convince friends that what happened in their past quite possibly shaped the condition of their present. I remember sitting across a successful, brilliant friend in Starbucks in downtown Manhattan and urging him to confront the broken little boy from his childhood who was most likely lurking in the shawdows of his subconscious, causing him so much anger and turmoil. I was sure I was onto something and I braced myself for a possible breakdown and a sobbing confession of, "You're so right! My God, it is because of my childhood!" Instead, true to form, my friend looked me square in the eye and said, "Chic, if that kid is still following me around I'd like to see him so I can beat the $!#@* out of him!" He wasn't going to take part of my pyscho mumbo-jumbo and inevitably, I was resigned to a fit of wild laughter.
But one of the readers urged me in my inability to be vulnerable to perhaps ask myself what I was afraid of "in the mutual exchange of shared experience." And included this quote: "You're one of those people who only give. You never let anyone give to you." It was, unknown to the reader, a question I had been asking myself for over a year. I am accustomed to being awakened at all times of the night by phone calls from women controlling their sobs, by acquaintances who weep in my arms, and by friends who disclose excruciating secrets that they beg me to tell no one, not even my spouse. None of these things shake me. I do not walk away thinking any less of these broken souls and I feel privileged that they would share with me such intimate moments of vulnerability. But a "mutual exchange of that shared experience"? The very idea of it is frightening.
But the scattered surprised response I got last year when I cried helplessly in the ICU while my baby girl fought for her life deeply disturbed me. When I fought back tears over the phone with my son's godmother six years ago after he, barely two years old, was diagnosed with diabetes and she panicked, Wait, are you crying? I was not the least bit surprised. And when my husband peered under my hair at my grandmother's funeral and asked, perplexed, Babe, are you really crying? I wasn't bothered. But for heaven's sake, here was my daughter on a respirator barely alive and surrounded by doctors who prepared us for what they thought to be the inevitable--wasn't I, the mother, atleast entitled to a moment of absolute, unrestrained hysteria? A long time friend could not keep himself from repeating over and over, "Wow, I never thought I'd see you cry like this. Wow, I never thought I'd see this day."
Well, needless to say, the shocked response to my most vulnerable moment have forced me to look deep into myself. Why was I so afraid of vulnerability? And so, I've stumbled upon this distant memory in my childhood that may have been the genesis of my fears:
I had a friend when I was five years old who gave me a shirt, a skirt, a pair of slippers and a clean, white underwear. I don't know why but on this particular day I decided to wear everything she had given me and I went out with my sister to play with her and a few other friends. As customary of most kids, an argument ensued and this time it was between this girl and my sister. Because my oldest sister was the bulldog in the neighborhood and I was the perpetual, whimpy cry baby, that little girl focused her anger on me. "Give me back my clothes," she demanded.
I think even I as a five-year-old thought this demand was rather ridiculous but I could tell that she was serious.
"We don't care about your stuff," my sister said.
"Give me my clothes," the little girl hissed. Then she added, "Cry, go ahead and cry."
"Don't cry," my sister said firmly. She looked at our friend. "She doesn't want your things and she won't cry."
"Give me my shirt!" I gave her her shirt.
"Give me my skirt!" I gave her her skirt.
"Give me my slippers!" I gave her her slippers.
"Give me my underwear!" I started...
"No!" my sister interjected. Thank God for big sisters! I kept the underwear on.
"Cry," the little girl hissed.
My sister and I left that play date. I walked home, a good ten minutes away. No shirt, no skirt, no slippers. An underwear--but no tears. I can still see everything so clearly as though it happened this morning. I can feel the urge to wail and heave and sob---but I can also feel every fiber in my being pulling together to do what I could never do before. Hold back my tears when I was falling apart inside.
I think that may very well have been the last time I allowed anyone to see me come close to falling apart. I learned a misconstrued lesson at a tender age that people can take back what they give you and prey on your vulnerability. That some will stop at nothing until they leave you barren and naked and they will rejoice at your brokeness. And perhaps that's why I can give and give but "I never let anyone give (to me)."
It wasn't meant to be a lifelong lesson. It was just a play date gone wrong among innocent, young children. But I learned a lesson on the power of stoicism. I may have walked home as good as naked but I was able to maintain my dignity because I refused to cry. I'd like to think in some way that that 5-year-old little girl walking home that day, summoning her will power to stay strong, has taught me to do the same when life over the years became difficult and unkind. But I too have to admit that while an undressed 5-year-old may evoke just curious stares from everyone, a 37-year-old walking in the same manner is not only creepy but highly unlikely. There's probably no reason now to be afraid to allow myself to be vulnerable to those closest to me knowing full well they will never hiss or prey on my vulnerability.
What a lesson I've learned about myself in this journey to Virtue! I told that same blog reader that perhaps only when I can get to know the real me can I become someone else--Elizabeth. And perhaps Elizabeth was sent by God so that I can get to know the real me and who knows, maybe when I finally find the whole truth about myself I may discover that Elizabeth was in me all along.