As much as I sometimes hate chauffeuring my kids from place to place, I love, absolutely love, the conversations I get to overhear in the car.
Random, insightful, funny, amazing conversations.
The quieter I stay and the less I say, the more I get to hear.
Last week, I was driving one of my daughters somewhere with her friend. They were giggling and laughing and then started to talk about things they were afraid of when they were little.
My daughter’s friend shared that her family keeps their Christmas decorations in special bags under her bed. Although she knew there was no room for anything else under her bed, she believed that a monster used to live there. When she finished telling the story the girls laughed about how crazy that is.
They laughed that sweet, sweet kids laugh, the one that when you hear it, for a moment, all seems right in the world.
Then my daughter shared how in her room when she was little there was a box of dress up clothes and at night, she used to think that monsters lived in that box.
“Isn’t that silly?” she asked her friend.
And again, the laughter. Oh, the laughter.
They leaned forward and asked me something, as if I didn’t overhear the entire conversation they just had. I find it hilarious that sometimes my kids think I don’t hear what they are talking about in the car when they are right behind me, as if we are in a fancy car that has some kind of partition between the front and the back.
“Ema,” (Mom in Hebrew) “Isn’t it silly how scared I was? As if a monster could be in that box!”
What I was thinking about was the possibility of the monster, not necessarily if she or he lived in the box.
Fear, when you think about it, so many of the things we are afraid of are so incredibly silly when you look at it in a different light or after some time.
Fear can consume you.
It can paralyze you.
It can keep you from being who you can be.
One of the things my rough, tough, gang-banging students are afraid of is being vulnerable, of showing the pain.
They are afraid to be seen as weak.
They fear lacking strength.
Time and time again I tell them that weakness is actually the most powerful strength in the book.
They look at me as if I came from another planet.
“What are you saying, Ms.?”
“I’m saying it is very powerful not to react.”
“No,” I say, “It’s strategy.”
“That leaves me super vulnerable,” one answers.
Another one jumps in. “I’m afraid of being vulnerable.”
“Why?” I ask.
“’Cause that leaves me open.”
“That’s good,” I say.
“Hell, no!” she says.
With tears in her eyes she continues. “It leaves me open and I’m not used to that. We who have suffered abuse, drugs, the gang, the violence, losing our kids to the system, we need to be closed. We can’t let them in.”
“How will the new people get in?” I ask.
“What new people?” she says.
“The ones who will not hurt you. You know you need to make space for the new people. Fear takes up so much space,” I say.
“Fuck, Ms. never thought about it like that. It’s hard,” she sighs.
There are a few women in this class who can genuinely scare the crap out of you. They are harsh and bold. They look you up and down and have that outside shell that is there to make fear their ally in keeping people away from them.
But these women of mine are also incredibly kind, loyal, funny, and smart.
They have been hurt, neglected, used, abused, and locked up more times than I can count. They are now trying to let go of fear, which is their fierce ally, their protector. They are trying to let vulnerability have a place.
“It’s hard being vulnerable. It breaks me,” one said.
“How about you change the narrative?” I suggest. “Tell a different story. How about vulnerability builds you up, instead of breaking you?”
I love these women more than words can express.
I admire their honesty, their desire to change,
their ability to show remorse but not apologize for who they are and what their life is. They are my heroes—all day, every day.
Fear occupies so much of their existence.
Fear is the fuel for so many of their actions.
Sadly, fear is the reason they never let down their guard. That fear is the outcome of pain you can’t even imagine.
“I don’t know how to be vulnerable, Ms.,” she tells me again.
“Let the monsters under the bed be there, but don’t fight them.”
“That is dangerous,” she says.
“It is,” I say.
I think about the fact that these women’s monsters ARE incredibly dangerous and maybe that wasn’t such great advice. I always worry that what I say could put my people in danger or hurt them. I wasn’t in a gang. What do I know?
And then, I look at them and I know that their vulnerability is crucial to their healing, crucial to their wholeness, crucial for them to have power.
Actually, that is true for all of us. Our vulnerability is our power.
There is a reason why Brené Brown’s Ted Talk “Power of Vulnerability” has over three million views.
“I got big ass monsters, Ms.,” she tells me.
“You also have a big ass heart!” I tell her.
“I don’t think you can put an ass and a heart together,” she says.
We both laugh.
“Mommy, were you afraid of monsters when you were little?” my daughter asks me in the car.
“I still am,” I answer.
“Right!” she says rolling her eyes and turning to her friend she adds, “my Mom thinks she is so funny.”
“I try to live with monsters and not be afraid of them,” I say.
“Okay, now you are just being weird,” she says.
And the girls go back to ignoring me and talking as if there is a brick wall between us.
Can you empty the space your fear is taking up? Can you imagine what you could fill that space with?
I dare you!
My monsters double dare you.