Recently, the United States observed the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
I watched parts of the ceremony on Sunday and was moved to find that the 9/11 memorial took the shape of two, massive, square-shaped scars in the ground of the city, where the towers had once been.
Something about these two gaps in the earth reminded me of our country’s great vulnerability on that tragic day.
Some have spoken of this before, so it’s nothing new: but it’s amazing how much our country has spent on trying to protect ourselves from future attacks. We have sacrificed so much of our rights, so much of our time and energy, so much of our financial resources, and so many human lives in wars–all of it done to ward off one thing: vulnerability.
On the day that the 9/11 memorial was opened to public, it was both sad and striking. Here was finally a true, undeniable symbol of our collective pain and sadness.
Most monuments rise up to the sky, or stretch far across the ground, but this one fell deep, and surges with an endless lamenting water. This new memorial exists in a city that is not known for showing off its scars, but for hiding soft interiors behind tough exteriors. This new memorial exists in a city surrounded by skyscrapers that bring to mind every metaphor imaginable for power, strength, and invincibility.
Having these deep scars exposed amid these grand skyscrapers is a bit disorienting, shocking, and surreal. Something seems out-of-place about them–they represent a deep, hard-to-fathom pain that forces us to want to look away.
Maybe it’s because, in witnessing these deep scars, we can see a reflection of our own scars. For not one of us can say we don’t remember that day.
The Curious Nature of Vulnerability
To understand vulnerability we must first know it deeply.
So many of our first encounters with vulnerability started with us getting our hearts broken for the first time in a romantic relationship. It was then that we learned that we must not show how sensitive we truly are.
After this heartbreak, we learned how to build up walls, we elevated skyscrapers of invincibility and carved out glass windows of impenetrability to shield ourselves.
Years of hiding our vulnerability behind thick fortresses of steel seemed to protect us from being stricken from the outside. But there was a side effect to all of this: this overprotectiveness made it more likely for us to hurt others. We grew cold and insensitive. We lost our ability to be emphatic. We became so unaware of what we were doing that we broke another’s heart without intending to.
After breaking the heart of another, we learned that it was just as dangerous to be too overprotective of ourselves as it was to be too vulnerable. So we returned to opening ourselves up a bit more, so as not to hurt others.
But when we became open again we were once again naked to an attack.
To experience the richness of life, we must be open to being vulnerable. However, being vulnerable also means we are susceptible to the vicious shrapnel of life. So, then, we are forced to come to the conclusion that the extent to which we allow ourselves to be vulnerable must lie somewhere in the middle between “too little” and “too much.”
But, in order to know where this “middle ground of vulnerability” is located, it requires years and years of exploring all the extremes of our vulnerability. In the end, we can only know the true limits and boundaries of our vulnerability until we allow ourselves to be both completely vulnerable and completely “closed-off.”
Unfortunately, on our way to this “middle-ground of vulnerability” we can, and often do, get lost.
No wonder we are so terrified of being vulnerable.
What if We Just Admitted That We Are Vulnerable?
We should avoid, at all costs, pretending that we are not vulnerable at all. That would be dangerous.
Sometimes (and I am guilty of this, too) we will go on the defensive when we are afraid someone is getting too close to a very delicate part of us–a deep place where our past hurts and deep scars lie hidden.
In that moment, we may see everything and everyone as out to attack us. In trying to deny our vulnerability, we might even compromise some of our usual politeness in order to strike down those who we are convinced are trying to do us wrong.
But what if, instead of getting defensive, we just admit that we are afraid? Or sad? Or hurt, or angry, or hopeless, or guilty, or bitter, or lost?
We human beings are such fascinating creatures. For not only will a bad comment make us feel bad or hurt, but even if the comment was not meant to hurt us, as long as we think the comment was meant to be hurtful, we will feel hurt.
This is how sensitive we all are.
And yet instead of admitting our great sensitivity, we will attack, we will spend all of our resources, and we may even compromise our long-held values in order to shield the fact that deep inside–amid all the tough exteriors, in between all the tall skyscrapers that have been built to show off our great “invincibility”–that deep within the great city of our hearts, we still carry deep scars.
A New America, A New World, and A New Definition of Courage
We live in very interesting times. Suddenly, we’ve all a been forced to face our incredible vulnerability. Anything can happen to us. We know that now.
So, what if we simply say to this truth: “Okay, so anything can happen to us… so what?”
We’ve always been vulnerable. And any argument to the contrary was probably just an illusion.
What if we simply admit our great sensitivity and go on being good and morally upright despite our very fragile nature? What if this is the new definition of courage: admitting our great vulnerability, but continuing to be good and just in spite of it?
For if we are not afraid of our own vulnerability, what else can get to us? Not much.
Maybe we can look at the memorial of 9/11, and admit that it’s time to make sense of the trauma. It’s time we stop denying, and start honoring our past hurts. It’s time we admit that we were good, but then something truly evil arrived that really screwed us up, and continues to affect us a decade later.
It’s time we stop replaying the tragic event on a never-ending loop on TV screens, as if it happened a thousand times over several hundred years–and not just on one day. It’s time to stop revisiting the trauma as if it’s not in our past. As if that one moment defines who we are and will continue to define us. As if we have run out of time to redeem ourselves. As if admitting our vulnerability makes us weak, and not strong. As if healing the wound isn’t just as important as finding justice for what happened.
Healing can only begin when we have the courage to admit that we were hurt and were deeply affected by it.
So let us join together, after ten years, to admit our great vulnerability and allow this act to make us truly, and finally, invincible.
What’s your history with vulnerability? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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