I’ve been thinking recently about vulnerability. What it looks like, feels like, entails.

If vulnerability is the multiplier, what do we multiply it with, what is the product, the outcome of this action? Courage adjacent, vulnerability asks to shed light on the innermost workings of our hearts and mind and past. The process then is honesty and bravery in spite of the nagging, intrusive thoughts.

It’s a realignment, for those of us who have fought against and lost many times over to the self-preservation instinct which tells us to harden ourselves against disappointment.

There is no guaranteed upshot. Only ripples. Ever-expanding. A seed buried in the cold hard earth.

In 2009, I was 19. A sophomore English major whose identity was fully wrapped up in the brick-clad buildings of academia. Of American literature anthologies and annotations, of my column in the university newspaper, in booze-laden conversations only undergraduates have once they become equipped with the multisyllabic language of romanticism and philosophy.

Before then, existing on a college campus seemed beyond contemplation. Unobtainable. Freshman year had sputtered to a close, but my sophomore year held vast potential. A fog had lifted and in its stead, the sun, lionhearted and lemony, blossomed.

But in October of that year four incontrovertible lines, like Roman legions conquering Gaul, spread across the planes of two pregnancy tests. I capped the tests and placed them gently in my pocket. It was raining that night and would continue to rain for some time.

That moment has been with me on repeat since its occurrence. Echoing in perpetuity. A constant companion. The clarity with which I instantly understood my path still befuddles me to this day. My hand had been forced and I would deal with the repercussions as they came, but at that moment I knew what I would do despite the control which would soon be wrested from me.

I would keep my son because I could see him with such clarity that it seemed almost preternatural. Marrying this sense of fate with grief is a strange experience. Simultaneous blooming and wilting. Stranger still is purposefully walking forward with the understanding that a giant precipice nears, that soon you will be unable to halt the momentum, and that over the edge is all that lies ahead.

That fall, I moved back home to Eastern Oregon where I waited for my son to be born into the spring. I met him earthside in May 2010. He was round and perfect and had long strands of dark hair (those would later be spun to gold). I can still feel his cheeks squish beneath my lips like a mud-luscious puddle.

Accompanying me at this moment, however, was grief. Unimaginable, all-consuming, flailing, despairing grief. It shrouded everything it touched with a blackness so complete that when I look back on that day nearly 12 years later, I feel heartbroken for that girl and her baby — alone in a sterile room, save the doctor and nurse. Moving forward despite the ground opening up and swallowing her whole. The breaking of the world and torrential rains — too much to bear now.

That rain, however, nourished the seedlings left behind by the rotten fruit — the grief, the sadness. I didn’t understand the anatomy of a blossom then. Soon those seedlings would germinate and take root. They would twist and embrace and stretch and fill the hollow ground with hope and with gratitude. With love.

Why share this story?

We are complicated creatures capable of holding simultaneous conflicting beliefs, emotions, wants, and needs. Accepting suffering as a gift is a radical act of vulnerability. So is arriving at the understanding that those complicated moments will irrevocably change us. Moments in time that you cannot undo, words that cannot be unsaid, emotions that can no longer be neglected. Stepping into that reality is terrifying but the alternative is scarier — a denial of self. I cannot change the past no more than an alchemist could translate mercury into gold. But I can transmute moments of vulnerability into magic.

We can plant the seeds and hope the fruit they bear is sweet.

———

Alex Hobbs is a former educator turned full-time homeschooling mom.

\She has a degree in political science from Oregon State University.

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