Once upon a time a long time ago in a kingdom far away, there lived a king and queen who had only one child: their son and heir. From his earliest days the prince was a fighter, adept – as a great poet once said – at ‘all the arts of hurting’: hunting, fishing, sword-play and the joust. And from his parents’ earliest memories he put on armour. To protect himself. From being hurt. When he grew up to be a man and – after his parents’ passing – to become king he was nearly always at war. He became a mighty warrior, occasionally chivalrous, but fierce in battle and feared in the land: gallant, brave, some might say with a blood-lust. And as time went on, he grew slowly distant from his new wife, the queen, acquired from a neighbouring kingdom he had conquered, and yet a serene and beautiful woman who loved him nonetheless.
And it so came about that the armour the young king wore when in battle, he began to wear when at home, at court, and at the castle. His armour was thick, and heavy, made from folded metal. It covered him from head to foot, his face often hidden behind a visor, his bearing and carriage hidden behind breastplate and chain-mail, sword and shield. Some wanted to laugh as he passed by, but daren’t, less they should incite the king’s wrath. Some began to forget what he actually looked like, they so very seldom saw his face. Some grew sad as they lost sight of the king they held in due regard and esteem, even though they would see him clunk and clank from room to room about the castle corridors and keep. People were afraid, or uncertain around him.
One day, his wife came to him. “Why, my king, do you insist on wearing your armour when not in battle? Why do you spend day after day in your courtly duties trussed up in the heavy, burdensome clothing of war?”. “I’m a soldier, a knight, a warrior. I wear armour to protect myself. From being hurt. You never know, even when at home if some madman or saboteur will try to take your life. In any case, it’s saved my life in battle. It’s part of me”. “It’s not part of you”, his wife retorted, “It hides you”. “My men love me, and that’s all that matters”, he said. “Your men love the idea of you” his wife replied, “they don’t know you. Anymore.”
“This is preposterous”, said the king. “Let me see your eyes”, said his wife. “What?!” said the king. “I want to see your eyes”, she insisted. “Oh very well”, and reluctantly the king lifted his visor. The queen looked into the eyes of the king. Eyes she’d not seen up close for such a long time. “They’re so blue”, she said. “Like the sky”. I want to feel your hands. The king protested, but his wife was defiant and he at last acquiesced. “You have such strong, slender hands” she said. “Now let me see you just in your doublet, with all your armour off”. Eventually, after much
persuasion and beseeching, the king slowly took off all his armour until it lay in a pile at his feet. “There”, the queen said, as she held a mirror in front of the king, “That’s you”. The king gazed at his reflection for a while, then said, “I don’t recognize me”. The queen turned to him and looked straight into his deep blue eyes. “I do”, she said. “I do”.
Ronald Rolheiser in The Restless Heart writes
It is because of the refusal to be vulnerable that, far too often, instead of enjoying friendship and intimacy with those around us, we find ourselves fencing with each other, using our talents, achievements, and strengths as weapons.
To be vulnerable in the true sense does not mean that someone must become a doormat, a weakling, devoid of all pride, going out of his way to let others know all his faults and weaknesses. Nor is vulnerability to be confused with the idea of ‘letting-it-all-hang-out’, to be vulnerable is to be strong enough to be able to present ourselves without false props, without an artificial display of our credentials. In brief, to be vulnerable is to be strong enough to be honest and tender. Like Jesus, the person who is vulnerable is a person who cares enough to let himself be weak, precisely because he does care. (Ronald Rolheiser)
In Arthur Miller’s play ‘A View From a Bridge’ the character of the narrator speaks of the protagonist, Eddie Carbone in these terms, ‘Something perversely pure calls to me from his memory. Not purely good, but himself purely. For he allowed himself to be wholly known…’
I often reflect on the fact that in our modern, pacey, image-conscious city-living the temptation to be ‘cool’ is overwhelming. Perhaps Moot suffers from this too? Probably I do. Who knows. The problem with it of course is that it presents a spurious, bootlegged version of ourselves, and keeps what we really feel or think shackled beneath sangfroid, bravura or a stolid silence or indifference. And what others experience is not the real me, or you.
By the way, Ghandi said ‘happiness is: when what we think, say, and do are the same thing.’
I suggest the opposite of ‘cool’ is often vulnerability.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean to give us all a hard time or find fault where there is none, and I’m not suggesting we deceive each other in Moot constantly and live lies 24/7, of course I’m not; I’m sure there is a significant degree of authenticity amongst us. But it would be fascinating to know what else lies beneath and what benefits might come from bringing more of our true selves to the surface.
The problem, I suggest, is sometimes this: we’re afraid we’re not as clever, as funny or charming as others, and that if we’re found wanting in these respects we won’t be accepted or popular. Ergo, I propose, the press to practice vulnerability is aided by the like-wise effort of all involved to be accepting of each other.
Though neither, echoing Ronald Rolheiser, am I suggesting we lay bare our souls and wear our hearts on our sleeves to the extent that we become self-humiliating or indulgent. Perhaps the recipe for vulnerability includes a seasoning of discretion. And as Rolheiser reminds us, the quest for vulnerability is rooted in concern for others. Vulnerability: to be brave enough to risk feeling inadequate or inferior by being open and honest while in the pursuit of something beneficial, perhaps to ourselves, but often to others.
To conclude, the road to vulnerability might not be a pretty one, and we will stumble, we may even get egg on our face, but it must surely be a journey worth taking, otherwise: let’s just be cool.
Heavenly Father, we are reminded tonight that you look on the heart, not on the outward appearance. We are reminded that you desire truth in the inner parts. Show us Father any husks, any shells, any masks, we put on that we needn’t. Lord Jesus, give us time and inclination to sit and think about whether we wear any armour which we need to take off so that people can experience us with all our glorious strengths and weaknesses and in all our beautiful vulnerability, so that like Eddie Carbone we might have a perverse purity because we allow ourselves to be wholly known.