Once upon a time there was a mother and a daughter. They lived happy, peaceful lives. Although they lived in different towns, they spoke daily. They shared their day’s grievances. They shared their day’s hopes. They shared all the nitty-gritty that life has to offer. Mom and Daughter each knew that they were loved by one another, even though they rarely said the words, “I love you.”
One day Mom went to the doctor with a concern, hoping to hear that it was nothing. But doctor did not dismiss her concern. Quite the opposite. He told her she was very, very sick.
Over the next few years, Daughter flew in and out to spend time with Mom. They sat at the supper table together talking about her treatments. They went shopping together, with Mom treating daughter. At night, they sat on the beds in Mom’s room laughing. Although the love between the two was tangible, rarely did they say the words “I love you.”
Mom was getting sicker. Daughter flew in more often. The conversations were shorter and the laughs less frequent. Daughter’s heart was aching. Mom knew that it was. Daughter was so scared of Mom dying. Mom knew that she was scared. Mom loved Daughter with a fierce intensity. Daughter loved her back. But rarely did they say the words, “I love you.”
Mom was very sick. Doctors were giving up. Daughter called Mom throughout the day, and the conversations ended with, “I love you.” Daughter knew that Mom didn’t want to die without saying those words.
Mom was lying on her deathbed in the hospital. Daughter was with her. She sat next to Mom, bent down to her ear and whispered, “I love you, Mommy.”
Recently my husband’s sister lost a child. She ended one of our text conversations with, “Love you.” This is not the way she usually speaks. And I recognized that deep, vulnerable state she is in right now. I connected with it because I remember my mother’s deep emotional state when she said those words to me.
It meant, “Miriam, I am dying. I am leaving you in this world without me. I will not be here to watch you raise your children. I won’t be here when your children reach milestones or for any future births. I won’t be able to discuss any more of the daily humdrum that life offers. You will be without me for yamim tovim. I know how hard this is. You just lost your father and older sister. Another loss is devastating. I wish I wasn’t dying. I want to stay with you. Miriam, it isn’t in my control, but I love you.”
Sometimes I wonder what would have been if we would have been more candid with our feelings toward each other, expressing them openly and allowing the other to see our emotional vulnerability. Would our relationship have been even stronger? I do wish I could go back in time and try it out. But of course, it is too late for that.
So I was thinking: Should I work on my current relationships? Should I try to take them to that place of open, sincere, emotional candidness? What will I gain? Would working on such a thing be considered avodas Hashem? If yes, then how?
Okay, so you can laugh at me. But I texted a few friends this question. We spoke about it, and I think I am starting to get it.
I need to work through anything that I carry that might cause me to react in a way that can be hurtful to others and myself. Someone might say something that will trigger feelings of pain over my mother’s death. I can tell myself that I am being ridiculous and decide to ignore the pain that I am feeling. However, if I do that I will be creating a bubbling anxiety inside of me. Sooner or later I will explode and lash out at whoever happens to be around (who totally doesn’t deserve it). That behavior isn’t okay.
Hashem created Adam. He then said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and he created Chavah. Hashem doesn’t want us to be alone. He gave us family and friends so that we can grow together.
Vulnerability is a gift from Hashem. It is a tool He has given us so that we can be connected, so that together we can support and encourage one another along our personal journeys. I can use this tool when something is triggering my pain – any pain from any area of life.
When I use the tool of vulnerability to connect I am exposing my true self. I am letting down my defenses. I have nothing to guard anymore. I won’t be justifying anything and therefore will be ready to take in Hashem’s messages for me. I will feel lighter inside. I won’t have that bubbling anxiety in me, and I will be a happier person.
Using this tool can bring me to menuchas hanefesh and to real simchah.
And reaching that level of simchah is avodas Hashem.
I got my answer. I can work on this part of my relationship with family and friends now, knowing what I missed out on because I didn’t do so with my parents and siblings.
But it is a struggle. It feels awkward to be so exposed.
I find it easier to expose my true self to Hashem. With Hashem, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. But I have a friend who has a hard time talking to Hashem from a place of vulnerability.
You can laugh again, but we made a joint decision to work on ourselves in this area. She will tell me each day about an open conversation she had with Hashem, and I will tell her about having such a conversation with a friend. I am not sure where this will lead us. But I think it will be to someplace good.
Perhaps if I work on this with people in my life today, the feelings of regret that I wasn’t open enough with my mother will diminish. So vulnerability, here I come!