Vulnerability

Alexa claimed the temperature at 5:04 a.m. this morning was 0°F. My computer, disagreed, saying it was -2°F. And the indoor/outdoor thermometer claimed the temperature on the screen porch is 5°F. Regardless of the thermometric discord, it’s bloody cold. Before I went to bed last night, I set the thermostat at 66°F, hoping threatened rolling electrical blackouts would not occur overnight. So far, so good. Maybe I will drop it down to 62°F tonight before I climb in bed.

I learned of the threat of blackouts earlier in the evening when, after three incoming telephone calls from Entergy that did not connect, I called the offending telephone number. I got a recording threatening blackouts and urging me to turn down the thermostat, turn off unnecessary lights, avoid washing dishes and clothes, keep refrigerator doors closed, set my refrigerator and freezer on the lowest possible temperature setting, and one or two others. I turned faucets on to a pencil-lead-sized stream in accordance with advice I got elsewhere. I was all set.

Until about 12:30 a.m.

I awoke to an odd, high-pitched humming noise, like a motor straining. I got up and went in search of what might be causing it. It seemed to be coming from the area of the master bathroom, but I could not pinpoint it. While in the bathroom, I took the opportunity to pee. The moment I flushed the toilet, the noise stopped. But when the water stopped running, it started again. I flushed again. The sound stopped. When the tank was filled, it started. I turned to the faucets. When I increased or stopped the flow, the sound stopped. I found the source of the maddening sound! A little adjustment to the size of the pencil-lead drip took care of the noise. I went back to bed. I thrashed about for a good hour and a half before finally falling asleep. I got three more moderately restful hours of sleep before I arose for the day.

+++

I still am learning to be vulnerable. It is a long and hard lesson for me, but I suspect it is a much harder one for men who have accepted society’s assertion that “strong” men never admit to or show weakness or display the softer emotions. My lesson is hard because, in spite of my ostensible lifelong rejection of machismo and its kin, fragments of the fiber of society’s assertions still cling to me. Those threads of the social fabric cannot easily be torn away completely after they are woven into the heart and mind at a very early age.

While learning vulnerability now remains hard, I have been working on it for many years. It’s only just now that I’m finding it a tad easier to acknowledge its place in me. One of the reasons, I think, is now see that the artificial strength required to mask vulnerability is, in fact, a weakness. The bravado I sense in so many men, whether visible or not, is simply an unspoken admission of the inability to summon adequate strength to admit one is vulnerable. A paradox.

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Last night, I sent an email to a woman I haven’t seen or heard from in several years. I wasn’t sure the email address I had for her was still valid. And I’m still not quite sure why I sent the message; I suppose it was primarily to let her know about my wife’s death. But I’ve promised myself in months past that I would reach out to people from my past to try to reconnect, so maybe that’s why I wrote. And possibly I wanted to try to keep a connection from yesteryear from disappearing entirely. I was surprised to find a lengthy, thoughtful, thought-provoking response from her this morning. Similarly, this morning I found a reply to a much earlier email I sent to my erstwhile British colleague.

I long for connections, even tenuous connections from the distant past. That’s an odd sensation for an avowed introvert to feel. It’s not that I want close, binding connections (though a few of those would be fulfilling). I just want the past to have mattered in some way. If the past mattered, then maybe the present does, too.

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Recently, two woman from my church dropped by to deliver a monthly goodie package that’s being delivered to all members as a means of keeping in touch during the pandemic. I invited them in (everyone was appropriately masked) and we sat and talked for a while. At some point, when it somehow made sense to say it, I told them I find being in the company of women much more interesting and comfortable than being around men.

Days later, I had occasion to be in the virtual company of several women. I discovered I was somewhat uncomfortable in that setting as the only male. And on another occasion, I was in the company of several men and I felt the same way. But on yet another occasion, when I was one of only three (or four?) men, I did not feel that same discomfort. So, perhaps, it’s not that I feel more comfortable with women than with me. Perhaps it’s that I am more comfortable in very small groups than in “packs.” (That’s not the right word, but I’m drawing a blank.) I still believe I generally prefer to be in conversation with women than with  men, but maybe numbers and composition have something to do with it.

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As much as I want bacon this morning, I will try to choose another options. I want to do my part to minimize the likelihood of rolling electric power blackouts. Unfortunately, I have no milk for cereal. And virtually anything I might eat for breakfast would require cooking. I am vulnerable to breaking my own rules and cooking breakfast. But not yet. Not until the sky is awake.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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