By Danette Vernon
I once read a book called “The Stone City.” It’s the story of a college professor who hit with his car a small child chasing a ball out into the street one evening. He went to prison — the Stone City. A miscarriage of justice you say? Maybe, maybe not.
At the outset of the 600 or so pages of the story, he calls the family of the little girl from prison and admits little, but expresses his sympathy. He implies, even in the midst of his apology, that maybe she shouldn’t have been out there. It was dark after all; she came from between parked cars … if only she hadn’t.
As the horror of prison dawns and drags throughout the story, he continues to call the family, and gradually, call after call, year after year, he starts to take responsibility for what happened. Over the years, this lonely intellectual learns to make something out of his life in prison, but he loses an eye in the process, a bit of a problem for an English professor who likes to read. As the story closes, he makes a final phone call and tells the truth. The truth is that he had been drinking that night, and wasn’t himself, and how deeply sorry he is for what cannot be made right, but hopes to be forgiven.
My story is much the same. I recently broke up with my boyfriend … after he broke up with me. “Touché,” you say! Not really.
In the intervening weeks since we broke up, I have — step by step, day by day — realized my part in the demise of our innocence as a couple.
I share much with the prisoner in “The Stone City.” Just as the character progressively admits to his culpability, I have slowly been able to admit to myself that all I know how to do in love is leave.
This view of love can be summed up in a line from K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah: “Maybe there’s a God above. But all I’ve learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya.”
A little dissatisfaction here, a little dissatisfaction there, and I fall into resistance. Oh, I fight it, but it’s all I really know. I can claim the usual childhood scars, and the mal-imprinting of a youthful plunge into love, but I can’t pretend that I don’t know the answer anymore.
The answer, in short, can be found in one word. Courage. Brene Brown, in a recent TED lecture, notes that courage has its origins in the word “heart,” or more fully, the word courage means to “tell who you are with your whole heart.” To tell who you are with your whole heart is to be vulnerable. And while vulnerability is where fear and mistrust embed themselves most deeply, those who live with a great deal of vulnerability, report unabashedly that “what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful.”
From here the whole argument has the symmetry of an equation that resolves the universe, as vulnerability leads to authenticity, which leads to connection, and a sense of belonging, and the end result? A self-grown inner strength that comes from a deep sense of worthiness.
Practice vulnerability, and you’ll forget how to “shoot somebody who outdrew ya,” as K.D. Lang sings so tellingly. And you will not leave anymore, nor will you be left because in its most tender form, authenticity is very nearly irresistible.
Be well, all is well.
By Danette Vernon