I love all of Brene Brown's work on vulnerability. Her TED talks (especially the first one), her blog, her book--I've been immersed in all of it for years now. I love the stories she tells to show that vulnerability is the core of the human experience and I love the way she invites us to stop posturing to cover up our vulnerability and live courageous and compassionate lives in the face of it.
What I don't love is experiencing my own vulnerability.
I have never been more scared, never felt more helpless, than I did earlier this week, waiting for Mowgli to get home from overseas. The way he travels--off the grid in remote areas with few or no companions, very little in the way of equipment or supplies, with no phone or itinerary--has often made me feel uncomfortable. I'm truly fine with him being gone--we believe wholeheartedly in launching the baby birds from the nest. But knowing that we don't know where he is on any given day and have no way to contact him is just a little disconcerting. And I deal with that vulnerability the way I deal with most vulnerability: I just don't think about it.
At least I did, until I couldn't anymore. I sat in the airport on Monday for hours, waiting for him to get off a plane from India after three months of travel. The fact that he didn't come through the doors with the rest of his flight didn't bother me since he is usually detained by authorities, either because he looks a little dicey or because he travels to politically sensitive regions, I don't know. Anyway, I alternated between reading on my iPad and watching the doors to International Arrivals and I was fine.
I was fine until C told me on the phone, "The airline says he didn't get on his flight in Delhi." I could hardly breathe. "That was 27 hours ago," I managed. "I know," C said. There was nothing else to say. Soon it hit me that it had actually been 31 hours, because of the delays. C checked his bank accounts (no activity), talked to the various discount airlines he had booked on (no help), tried to have him paged at the airport in Delhi (no way), and tried to tell the police on our doorstep that he had been trying to call India, not 911 (no kidding).
I shakily went to the restaurant where our extended family was waiting for his homecoming. They comforted me, offered plausible explanations for his delay, and I headed out for the four-hour drive home alone. Although everyone offered me a place to stay, I knew what I couldn't say out loud: if things got bad, I wanted to be home. That was a thought I had never had before and the vulnerability in it hurt.
On my way home, falling into C's arms at the front door, lying in bed willing myself not to think, finally giving up and watching TV to avoid the unbidden horrors of my imagination, I felt my vulnerability in every heartbeat. Even though I said to myself over and over, "It's going to be okay" and even though I really did believe that, I don't have to look beyond my own extended family to know that it sometimes isn't okay.
I felt down deep the reality that there was nothing I could do. Whatever had happened had happened. A power failure (in the news)? A fall from a cliff (plausible)? A kidnapping (he had talked with me about that possibility before he left)? A deadly train fire (yes, I was surfing the internet)? Now it was just time to wait to hear . . . waiting steeped in helplessness and vulnerability. For the first time in my life, I was aware that there was truly nothing I could do.
The text came about 3 in the morning--"safe" --and relief flooded through me (I really do know now why that cliche is so overused--"flooded" is exactly how it felt). Even as I felt my own fear recede, I thought briefly about those who don't get the good news, who don't get the text that changes everything, and I was grateful--deeply grateful--not to be in that company, this time anyway.
The story turned out to be about what we expected: Mowgli's bus to the airport was stuck in a tiny Tibetan town waiting out floodwaters that had washed out the road ahead. He remembered that he had told us that he would let us know if he missed his flight, so he knew we would be worried, not knowing where he was, but he was stranded in a place outside of technology. As soon as he got to the airport, he borrowed a German tourist's phone and texted me.
I'm posting two photos here: one of my happy face (he looks pretty happy too!) when we finally did collect him at the airport and one of him adventuring in faraway places, facing his own vulnerability in the wildness of nature and coming home to tell about it.