These lyrics are from a song that I play probably once a week--"Hello, My Old Heart" by the Oh Hellos. Though they speak to me for so many reasons, they've been bringing something up for the past few weeks.
I've loved writing and posting to this blog. In the past seven months, I've churned out a pretty decent amount of posts. Some of the posts that I've written in that time span are probably the best I've done to this point. One of the biggest reasons for that is one of the most difficult to keep pulling off:
More often than not, in this space, I've laid some part of myself out for everybody to see. Thoughts, struggles, fears, the kind of things we usually keep to ourselves and only speak in hushed tones to the feathers of our pillows or the windows of our cars.
I'm going to level with you--it can really suck sometimes. It's almost always hard. And I'm almost always terrified to do it.
I'll sometimes spend days or even weeks debating with myself about whether I should post something. I'll cut huge parts out, rewrite lines a dozen times, scrap the whole thing, panic and try to recreate it, and I rinse and I repeat.
When I hit the "publish" button, or the "post" button on Facebook, it's usually while holding my breath. As soon as it goes up, I shut my laptop or turn my phone off, and I almost always immediately regret that I put it up.
I think, No, no, no. That was stupid, man. This is not a good idea. At least go back and take out that part that makes you sound like a little girl.
It can be exhausting. Do you know how much easier it would be to pop out some list posts? The Five Things I Love Most about Teaching. The Ten Coolest Places I've Visited. The Sixteen Things That Every 28-and-a-Half-Year-Old Should Know about Dating or Money or Small Dogs or Something.
It'd be so much easier than some of these gut-wrenching, vulnerable posts. And I get temped to retreat. I don't want to lay myself out anymore. I don't want any of it. I want my walls. I want my fortress. I want to be safe and comfortable there. And that would be so much nicer because there's this fear that people will see what I've laid bare and use it against me.
The problem with vulnerability is this: that fear I have--the one where I get burned--will, at some point, to some extent, come true.
I will get (and have gotten) burned by someone when I open myself up. I've already upset people with this blog. Never wanted to, never intended to, never thought I had anything controversial going on here, but it still happened. And forget about the blog for a second--I will get and have gotten burned by being vulnerable in person. Like pretty badly burned. Like this-is-your-worst-nightmare-come-true kind of burned.
The nature of being vulnerable is hard to swallow. It doesn't quite make vulnerability all that enticing.
Being vulnerable means you are completely exposed.
It means someone can reject you, and it will hurt.
It means someone can use what you reveal against you.
Vulnerability comes at a price. Always. It will cost you your pride, your security, your image, your comfort, and so much more.
Vulnerability can suck.
It only feels natural, then, to build the walls around ourselves. To protect ourselves. To keep ourselves from that terrifying question, "What will people think when they read this?" or "What will this person think if I show them who I really am?" Why risk it? Why put ourselves in a position to be rejected, scrutinized, or hurt?
Build the wall, my heart says. Build it high, build it strong. Build it three layers thick. Build, and keep me safe. Build.
But time and time again, when I start to stack those stones, I get this nudge to take them back down. And I, sometimes begrudgingly, oblige. With my fingers fresh with grit and cement, I take each stone off the wall and lay it down on the ground. And I step out again, into an open field with all sides exposed.
Because when I lower my defenses and take down my walls, at some point, someone else probably will, too. It lets us feel okay to reveal ourselves as we truly are. And that's where we make some of our deepest connections, where we grow the most, where we find healing and hope and comfort.
Many of the best conversations I've had began with me stepping out and letting someone see the Paul behind the curtain. People who were nearly strangers to me became friends. Friends became blood.
So, try as I might to resist it some days, I want to undo the work of building my walls. I want to step out into the open, expose myself to the fray of life, commit myself to the hard work of choosing the risk of heartbreak and rejection, the risk that I'll take a bullet.
And even if I do (and I will--I absolutely will take a bullet, and so will you if you do this), I'll pick myself up, clean off the blood, and I will continue this hard work.
It's worth it. It's the only way to live truly free.
Hello, my old heart How have you been? Are you still there inside my chest? I've been so worried You've been so still Barely beating at all
Oh, don't leave me here alone, Don't tell me that we've grown for having loved a little while Oh, I don't want to be alone I want to find a home and I want to share it with you
Hello, my old heart It's been so long Since I've given you away And every day I add another stone To the walls I built around you To keep you safe
Hello, my old heart How have you been? How is it, being locked away? Don't you worry In there, you're safe And it's true you'll never beat, but you'll never break
Because nothing lasts forever Some things aren't meant to be But you'll never find the answers Until you set your old heart free