You are 3-years-old today. Three years ago you left my body for this grand adventure we call Life. And what an adventure it has already been! I am so eager to see how you will walk through life in the years to come. You, my boy who has always seemed so at ease in the world; so content being YOU… with your adventurous spirit, your uncanny ability to read people’s emotions, your unbelievable negotiation skills, your joy at all things jogging and your easy affection, you are already well on your way, sweet boy.
But this, your birthday week, has been a heavy one. Tragic and terrifying and almost too much to take in. A bombing at the Boston Marathon. A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. Two people I know lost family members. So much death and despair and sadness.
The reality, I know, is that this sort of thing happens all the time. All over the world. But when it gets close like this? When it feels like it might just reach all the way out and actually touch me, it makes me so much more afraid. And it makes me want to tighten my tenterhooks around you. To pull you in and never let go. But it’s your birthday today. How can I celebrate your birth, your ever-onward-and-upward, with this fear that might suffocate me? How can I cheer you on as you continue to walk forward in Life when all I want to do is pull you back in?
When I feel afraid like this, my sense of foreboding joy kicks into high gear. Foreboding joy is another piece of vulnerability armor that Brene Brown writes about in her book, Daring Greatly. It’s the inability to fully and deeply experience joy without a sense of foreboding attached. It looks like this…
- You’re driving in your car with your kids, loving the way their voices sound as they sing along to the music, feeling the sun on your skin, looking at the gorgeous views all around you… and then you let your mind wander to what it might happen if you got into a terrible wreck. Moment ruined.
- You just had a great conversation with your husband, you’re feeling connected and alive and happy about your relationship. Then you flash forward to his funeral and try to come up with something to say for his eulogy. Moment ruined.
- You are watching your kids sleep and you are overcome; absolutely flooded with love for them. Instead of enjoying the moment in it’s fullness, you think about the kid you know who is dying of cancer. And you start to imagine walking down that road yourself. Moment ruined.
You get the idea. I do this sort of thing all the time, Isaiah. It’s a piece of “vulnerability armor” because I do it in order to avoid feeling vulnerable. When I watch you and your brother sleeping or enjoy a meaningful conversation with Papa… those are some of the very best moments in my life. But they are scary, too. They are scary because when I am happy, the possibility for profound sadness feels unbearable. Because there is the possibility of a bomb. Or an explosion or, or,… And I mistakenly think that by rehearsing grief or tragedy, I will somehow make it easier on myself should one of those terrible outcomes actually came to pass. But there is NO way to prepare myself for such grief. There is nothing in the world that could prepare me for the complete annihilation that would be mine if I lost you. All I’m doing is ruining the incredible moments that I DO have by allowing a sense of foreboding to enter into my joy.
Brown says that in order to lower our vulnerability armor, we need to walk toward the joy we feel rather than run from it. We need to feel it in all it’s fullness, acknowledge that we are scared, and leave it at that. Easier said than done. I’m good at rehearsing eulogies and all sorts of grief and sadness. And it has always felt safer to do it that way. But now I know it’s not. I’m no safer and I’m only missing out. So for you, my wild and wonderful 3-year-old boy, and for me, I want to jump all the way in. I want to to lean toward the joy instead of pulling back with the false pretense of protection. And I hope that as you grow you will learn to jump in with me without fear.
This week, amidst all this sadness swirling about us, I feel SO happy when I gaze upon your sweet face. I love you immensely. I am so happy that you are alive. I can’t believe that we belong to each other. I’m also scared. The grief and fear is palpable and always will be, I suppose. But you are and always will be one of the greatest joys of my life. I can’t wait to jump into more and more joy with you as the years unfold. Happy Birthday, Bup.