Hearts & Handcuffs

Nerstrand - Big Woods State Park / Apple iPhone 6s Plus 

Nerstrand - Big Woods State Park / Apple iPhone 6s Plus 

It’s winter and I’m deep in the Minnesota wild, my fingers locked tightly inside yours. We’re sliding over icy rocks, your voice echoing through the trees, rising toward the sky like gray smoke. Stumbling through the snow we make our way down toward a frozen river. The solid water terrifies me, I’m afraid to crack the ice. I hesitate and you look back at me.

I’m uncertain, not just about the river… about you. I’ve never felt this way before…. I see half my life’s story in your face and I’m not sure I want to. I pause, and for a moment your smile steps off stage, then performs an encore as I trust my heart and take your hand once more.

That wouldn’t be the first time you’d make me brave. 

Like my teeth in thirty degrees weather, my Sony shutter clicks as I capture you leaping from rock-to-rock up the isolated icy waterway. 

Your laughter melds with the wind between the trees in eclectic harmony; pure white snow laps the heels of my Red Wing boots. 

I wish I could live here forever… for in that moment, and the many more we’d share, shame had no place.

On the water with you, the space between who I am inside and the way I projected myself to the world no longer existed. The place between who I am today and who I want to become had vanished.

Underneath a Midwestern sky the dissonant chasms within me where shame called home faded to cracks. Love had shrunk the gaps.

Love not in the abstract, love as a verb… love in the now (and the snow, as it were). Like coarse salt on the icy roads that winter afternoon, only love built upon vulnerability can dissolve shame.

Vulnerability is often conflated with ‘authenticity’ and yet the two words are markedly different; love in its truest form being more closely related to the former not the latter.

Authenticity is letting someone see your heart in handcuffs. It’s allowing them to bear witness to whatever story or idea of yourself you want to share, but restraining their ability to hurt – or to love you.

Banff National Park / Sony A600 / 20 MM 

Banff National Park / Sony A600 / 20 MM 

Vulnerability is letting someone see your heart and handing them a knife. Vulnerability is inviting someone into the story within you… and seeing if they stay. It’s laying down arms and tearing down walls, standing defenseless and giving someone else a choice. That’s what makes it hard. That’s what makes it love.

Vulnerability is the antidote to the shame epidemic. This is why we need other people, not just romantically, platonically too. When you find a sacred circle with whom you can bring your entire self to the table, the impossible happens – shame ceases to be an adjective in your life. When you’re not at home in yourself, life feels like a house of mirrors; shame a constant, ever-changing companion. But love, born out of vulnerability with others, shatters the glass.

It’s been over a year since I heard your laughter in the trees. What once was so alive is now nothing more than a ghost. Yet, something you taught me has remained true in the months and miles since our first date in the snow.

Shame lives in the space between who I am inside and how I present myself to the world; the insecure place between where I am today and where I want to be tomorrow… and the only way to close the gap is to let someone inside it.

The theme of my writing has always centered around what it looks like to be brave... but the thing about bravery is we can’t do it alone. It’s only when we’re courageous enough to let ourselves be loved we find ourselves free from the chains of shame.

Vulnerability is not without risk, and one day you’ll inevitably give the wrong person a knife. Often when we get hurt it's not even malevolent. As you change and grow sometimes people in your life you once let in are going to tell you you’re too different or too much or that you’ve changed. 

Let me be the first to tell you that says more about them than it does you. You shouldn't revert to shame or rebuild walls, even as your heart cries out and the wound is still fresh. Let your sacred circle triage you and remind you who you are. You have nothing to fear. Perhaps one day the person who hurt you, who let you go, will realize all of who you are is more important than whatever idea of you they'd wanted to keep.

You'll never know true love — and the accompanying shamelessness — as long as everyone around you has their hands tied behind their backs.

So take off the handcuffs... and take his hand instead.

Courage dear heart,

-       JM