Home > Death, Family, Love, Parenting, Personal > My sweet, soaring vulnerability

My sweet, soaring vulnerability

“I only have panic attacks before takeoff,” I told my husband as we prepared to fly north to visit my sister’s family last week. “I don’t know why that is, but that’s how it is.”

I thought of those words yesterday as we waited for our plane home to begin taxiing. I wondered what it was about takeoff that reset my panic button. Whether the plane itself was moving or not, the space inside was still tight, mobility still limited. So why would takeoff take off my edge?

My nine-month-old son bounced and squirmed on my lap as our plane begin inching toward the runway. My thoughts shifted from wondering to wonder.

I closed my eyes and did as I always do near takeoff: I said prayers of thanks and love. I don’t know to what or whom I offer up these words. It’s not important.

Thank you for the chance to fly. Thank you for my beautiful family, I whispered as I buried my head in my baby’s hair. Please see us safely to the other side of this flight. And if it’s not in our cards to touch down safely, please let everyone we loved know how much we loved them. Please let my boys go not in fear but enveloped completely in the completeness of my love for them.

By the time the plane nosed its way upward, I understood.

Vulnerability embraced trumps panic.

As I walk around in my day to day life, I repress tears as I push back my shoulders and lift my chin. I try hard to keep my head up in a facade of braveness even when I don’t feel an ounce of it. I exhaust myself cultivating this firmness of will and calling it strength.

There on the plane, with everyone else around me lost in their own thoughts, any need for facade fell away as I embraced the possibility of those moments being some of my last.

And with the need for facade, so, too, vanished an enormous weight.

I am not ferocity. I am not braveness. I am love. I am love and hope and joy and grace and awe and peace.

And this strength, this braveness I have held up to myself as most precious, is nothing when I see through eyes unadorned by visions of who I think I want to be. Who I think I have to be.

Vulnerability embraced trumps panic because vulnerability is strength.

I understood.

No more will I exhaust myself cultivating firmness of will and calling it strength, for I understand.

I have never before felt nearly as strong as I did with heart flung wide open to the power of–the power in–embracing the truth of my finiteness.

My sweet, soaring vulnerability.

  1. nicciattfield
    January 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    So beautiful!

  2. January 6, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Oh I am so, so, so scared of flying. So terrified. Once I was flying across a desert with my father and I clenched his hand so tightly during takeoff and landing I gave him a bruise! This post was so beautiful.

    • January 6, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      Thank you! I used to love flying, but it’s been rough since I had my first panic attack (which, unfortunately, occurred on a plane) six or seven years ago. It’s just the last few flights that’ve finally seen me calm-ish, which is great since I will likely be traveling a lot soon. I wish you the best in future flights. ♡

  3. January 6, 2015 at 3:50 pm


  4. January 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Wonderfully written! This is something we have learned in cognitive behavioral therapy. The harder anxiety is pushed away, the worse it becomes. Embracing it, accepting it, and going through it is what makes the difference. XOXO-Kasey

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Thank you! And YES! El recommended me a book with principles similar to CBT a few years back; that was the best recommendation of my life so far. Just when I think I have mastered embracing even rough things, I find another example showing I have more to learn. Big, big hugs.

  5. January 6, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    I can always count on you for beautiful, profound posts. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Ditto that! Your posts come to mind long after I’ve read them most days. Today’s post will be with me for a long time to come … a good thing, no matter the shimmering eyes.

  6. January 6, 2015 at 4:47 pm

    I’m so having my wife read this. I’m not a huge fan of flying myself, but she has similar anxiety about it, so even though in my head before takeoff, I’m saying crapcrapcrapcrapdon’tdiecrapcrapcrap, on the outside I’m holding her hand and insisting “It’s okay. There’s nothing to be worried about.” I suspect for her it’s about vulnerability, too. If she could, she’d fly the plane itself to know it was in “good hands.” But I think you really nailed it–the only I find I’m able to just chill out is to embrace the fact that I am where I am (thousands of feet above the ground) and I’m not in control. A drink or two also helps. 🙂

    • January 6, 2015 at 7:06 pm

      You’re too funny, John!!! 🙂

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      LOL @ flying the plane herself! That’s how I’ve felt for some time. I’ve had help flying for the last several years, so it’s thrilling to be flying with a smile sans that external help. That internally generated comfort is a fantastic feeling I hope your wife will someday know. 🙂

  7. January 6, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    I’ll keep this beautiful post in mind the next time I fly and get anxious about touching down again in one piece. 🙂

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      I hope it helps! Touchdown is also tricky for me .. especially the last flight, where the plane landed rough and uneven. Someone actually yelped. In a way, the rough landing eased up that nervousness: even a bad landing can work out fine. (Still, no more bad landings would be fine by me … )

  8. January 6, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    your words are always so lovely! I have only flown once and I wasn’t as afraid as I thought I would be 🙂

    • January 7, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      I loved flying (especially turbulance) from my first flight until my first panic attack (right as a plane began to taxi, but for unrelated reasons). It’s good to be getting away from that, and with such a beautiful feeling at heart!

  9. January 6, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Vulnerability (when admitted) is stronger than anything else I can think of. Except perhaps love.
    A beautiful post. Thank you.

  10. January 6, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    Your words are as beautiful as your sweet spirit! I’m glad you had the opportunity to visit with your family. That’s always so special. 🙂

    I’ve always considered flying one of those many acts of complete trust and faith (like marriage and having children:)). I’ve had my share of panic attacks in various places, but I always feel oddly calm when flying. Once I’m belted into my seat, I’ve entered into a contract with the Universe to either land safely, or not–and somehow I manage to stay hopeful that things will go my way. 🙂

  11. January 6, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    So beautifully, beautifully articulated…..As a young teacher(MANY years ago!!!) I learned this “not so simple truth” when I gave up “control” and started laughing with one of my more “challenging students”…..Vulnerability is scarey. It involves trust….and trusting is a pretty scarey place to be for a “control freak” like myself……Thank you (once, again) for having the talent to express so beautifully what’s in other’s hearts…..<3

  12. January 6, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Beautiful! We all need to accept and embrace vulnerability more often in this life!

  13. January 6, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    Deb, I can relate all too well with the “facade of braveness.” I’m still working out my own stoicism. I’m just happy to hear that you’ve landed safely and that your heart is still soaring. See you soon!!

  14. January 7, 2015 at 6:14 am

    I have a nice lump in my throat reading about the embracing of vulnerability! You’ve expressed and managed to conquer it, and I still don’t even like the work “vulnerable”! 🙂

  15. January 7, 2015 at 6:40 am

    I will try hard to remember these words forever. You see into my heart, even when you are looking elsewhere.

    Thank you and I love you.

  16. January 7, 2015 at 8:07 am

    What a beautiful thing to realize so early in life. Most of us don’t face this until we meet an undeniable life threatening crisis or toward the end of our lifespan.

  17. January 7, 2015 at 9:09 am

    I’m always a wreck on planes and not just take-off. Yes, flying makes us realize how fragile life is, how lucky we are, and how we’re really just specks in this huge metal container soaring through the sky. Shiver.

  18. January 7, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Wow. This is breathtaking.

  1. January 7, 2015 at 9:17 am
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