"A warrior is not about perfection or victory or invulnerability. He's about absolute vulnerability." - Socrates, in "The Peaceful Warrior"
The first few times that I watched The Peaceful Warrior, I didn't get that. I didn't get it at all. A warrior's a fighter. A warrior overcomes. A warrior perseveres. I didn't understand how anybody could be expected to do any of that without armor.
But over the past couple of years, I've learned a little bit about what it means to be vulnerable. For years, I've worn armor. Complex and multi-layered. Nothing was getting in to hurt me. The problem with that is that armor isn't a filter. You may very well be able to keep out the bad, but trust me when I tell you that you're also keeping out the good. Not to mention that if you're not letting anything in, those same defenses will not let anything out.
It's been a slow and deliberate effort over a number of years, but I think I allow myself to be much more vulnerable than I've ever been. And I've been hurt, yes. But I've also felt incredibly strong and wonderfully good feelings that I'd never fully felt... or never felt at all. It sounds like hyperbole, but I feel as if I've seen colors that I've never seen before. Sounds that I'd never heard before. It's, well, it's like watching a 3D movie without glasses, and then putting them on. You experience everything. Yes, some of it's bad. But the good makes it all worthwhile.
So I get it. I get what Socrates was telling Dan. But I may not have gotten it fully until this past Friday evening. I encountered another aspect of being vulnerable that caught me completely off guard.
My six year old son's hand
Worse for him or worse for me? Hard to say.
I mentioned in a recent post that my son was just diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. He's six years old. He has some developmental disabilities that made it harder for him to understand what was going on. He was fairly well out of it. His blood sugar was 470 when he was admitted. And he did not like getting needles. Not even a little bit. Unfortunately, needles were coming at him frequently. In addition to a couple of IV drips, he was getting blood glucose tests done every hour. First this finger, then that finger, then the other side of that finger... it was awful. As a father, it was all I could do to stand there and hear him screaming a scream that was a combination of pain and fear and confusion as two nurses held him down in order to get the drop of blood necessary for the test.
By Friday, he was off the insulin drip, which meant that in addition to the blood glucose tests, he was going to need to get insulin injections. The screams were worse. It not only broke my heart each and every time, but it scared me. We'd likely be going home on Sunday, and somehow my wife and I were going to have to do this ourselves. I couldn't see that happening. But there was no choice. It had to be done. Was I looking at what we'd all have to endure five or six times a day? Was this going to be what our lives were going to be like for the foreseeable future?
Late in the afternoon Friday, I decided I'd try once more to explain what was happening. I'd been trying, but for many different reasons (all understandable), I wasn't getting through. But now I was desperate. I stood next to him and started to explain once again that he did nothing wrong. His body was sick. I wished I didn't have to do this. I wished I could make it all go away. I told him how very much I love him. And then something happened...
It may have been the lack of sleep, it may have been a delayed impact of the diagnosis, and I didn't even feel it coming on, but I started crying. I was sobbing as I pleaded with him to understand what was happening. In that moment, I had unintentionally become completely and utterly vulnerable. And as I struggled to speak through my tears, he looked up at me and with concern in his voice said, "Daddy, don't cry".
I don't think he'd ever seen me cry. He didn't know exactly what to make of it. And as much as he didn't understand most of what was going on around him, I believe he understood why I was crying. And he knew that he could fix it. And in that moment, he found strength from my vulnerability.
The next time the nurses came in, they checked his blood glucose... and he didn't cry. They injected him with insulin... and he didn't cry. And then he looked up at me and asked, "So Dad, are you proud of me?"
And at that moment, amid new tears of my own, I knew that everything was going to be OK.