At this time in history – April 2020 – when we are experiencing the world-wide outplay of the pandemic known as Covid-19, I am sure that there are many amongst us who are feeling very vulnerable right now; from the elders in our community to those whose health may be already compromised in some way, and those who live daily with various degrees of anxiousness, no matter what is going in in the world. I am also sure that those of us who are feeling very vulnerable, may also feel that this vulnerability could be seen as a weakness, and therefore something not to be shared with others in case we are judged. So, we keep how we are really feeling to ourselves and get on with our lives as best we can, but with this weight of vulnerability becoming heavier by the day it may begin to impact on our relationships, our lives and possibly our physical and mental health in some way.
I used to be someone who lived, without question, the long-accepted belief that being vulnerable is a weakness, and I hated that’s how I felt. But over the last decade of my life I have finally come to understand, that vulnerability is not a weakness, it is in fact a strength as when we are honest and acknowledge how we are truly feeling we open the doorway to deepen not only the understanding of ourselves, but also our relationships with others. We may also come to understand that with this honesty it is possible to heal any hurts we are holding onto which will then free us to look at people, life and the world through very different eyes.
In the weeks running up to New Zealand being placed in lockdown I was feeling very well, so the spectre of Covid-19 was not looming large in my life. In fact, I was happy to continue in my two working roles where I work very closely with the public. But all that came to a halt when I contracted a virus – no, not Covid-19 – and I was unwell for several weeks. And with the combination of the regularly voiced belief that those who are 70 years of age and over – me – are at risk from this virus, and the way I was physically feeling, I slowly began to be aware of feelings of vulnerability – as a weakness – creeping into my body and my being. It was such an insidious feeling as if it was trying to burrow into my usual steady and wise body with the sole purpose of destabilising me, to get me to feel fearful and to get me to begin to contract away from others and from life, ostensibly for my own safety. It was not a pleasant feeling in the least, one I hadn’t felt for a very long time, and so I had to keep on reminding myself that it was not who I truly am, but just thoughts being dropped in to convince me otherwise. This was an on-going process and one I shared with a close friend on several occasions.
About this time one of my bosses contacted me to say that on account of my age I was deemed to be in the ‘vulnerable’ bracket of the population, and so was suggesting that it was time for me to stop working, until life returned to ‘normal’, whenever that would be. That was an interesting moment, as even though I had seemingly been stamped with a ‘you are old therefore you are vulnerable’ stamp, in my essence, I didn’t feel it. In fact, even though I was not feeling 100% well at the time I could see that I was physically and mentally way less vulnerable than many others younger than me.
Even though this person and others, like my family, were only sharing what they felt out of the deepest love and consideration for me, at that moment I could feel my indignance rising, feeling like I was being judged for being older and therefore, because of my age I was also being judged as being weaker. I could feel myself going into reaction and oh, did that feel horrible in my body. It was a feeling that I knew I needed to address very quickly before it became all-encompassing because, with the wisdom of hindsight, I know that it is very hard to recover quickly from a reaction that is left to fester in our mind, the consequences of which will begin seeping into our body before we know it.
That was an absolutely defining moment – one where I knew I had a choice as to what came next: the growing ugliness of the reaction or the healing opportunities of a wise and considered response. I knew that it was time to acknowledge that in this crazy mixed-up world of ours, that yes, in spite of how I was feeling, out in the world I was being defined by my age. It was like I was being dragged into a world-wide consciousness that was saying ‘You are old therefore you are vulnerable; therefore, you are at risk of contracting Covid-19 and therefore at risk of dying’ – which is a natural process of life of which I have no fear.
That was definitely one over-arching consciousness that I was not going to allow myself to be a part of. If others were going to judge me by my age and to tell me that I am vulnerable, in the ‘weakness’ sense of the word, that was their choice but the most important choice, my choice, was that I was not going to align to their beliefs but instead I was going to make the choice to reconnect to what I have come to know is true; that I cannot be defined by my age unless I choose to be but at the same time acknowledging that yes, I am living in an older body. There is no point in denying that!
So, I took a long gentle breath and breathed out the indignation and the frustration as to how others saw me and accepted where I was in my life at that moment and who I truly am; a 70-year-old woman who is not defined by her age, who knows the truth about ageing and who on the inside of this ageing body feels ever so young at heart. And with that acceptance and claiming of the authority of the elder and the grace of the woman I am, my body began to relax and as it did the tension, I had taken on with those feelings began to release. And as they released, I was able to begin to settle back down into my usual state of being, a state where my vulnerability is a not a feeling of weakness but simply an honest acknowledgement of what may be unfolding in my life. Then, from this acknowledgement my honesty supports me to connect with the knowing of my inner strength; a strength we all naturally have.
These feelings of vulnerability do keep on rising up every now and then, but I always stop and ask why. And as my steadiness is slowly returning, they get a loving talking to and once love-bombed they don’t stay around too long.
I then got to contemplating about all the other members of my global family, the family of humanity, who may be feeling vulnerable, fragile, fearful and perhaps even downright scared right now about what might be ahead for them. At any time of our lives, it is so important for each of us to have a loving and supportive network, with at least one person we can share our fears and concerns with – that’s if we have any of course – someone who we can be totally honest and transparent with. And even if we can’t see them in person and be wrapped up in the warm, loving hug we may be needing at this time, it is super important to make the choice to keep in touch regularly. We are being asked to engage in social distancing but, that is actually the last thing we need to do, as right now when we may be feeling the most vulnerable we have ever felt, it’s the connection to the people in our lives that matters the most.
Yes, let’s keep our physical distance if that’s called for, but how about we ramp up our social connections, extending our family borders as far as we possibly can; and maybe it is at this time we will finally discover what true family is.
My contemplation then expanded into a deep pondering on how amazing it would be, if from childhood we were raised to know that to feel vulnerable and to be able to express how we feel with total honesty is not a weakness but an absolute strength and that it’s important to reach out to another when we are feeling unsure about life. It is so easy to imagine the healing ripples from the consequences of this natural honesty beginning to flow through every other aspect of our lives, before flowing on to touch all those we meet, even if for the merest moment, and then out into the world, a world that definitely needs all the healing it can get right now.