Nov 23, 2022 • 2M

Folding In #35

Fierce Vulnerability and the Undoing of Shame

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poem by Kate Baer

I knew an old, dying man who lived alone and refused care. He pushed the nurses out the door and slammed it as they left. He blew fire out his belly to make a wall between himself and anyone looking his way. His body wasn't working as it once did, and pain chewed through his back and clawed at his gut. A capable man, an award-winning man, written about in newspapers, but at the end of his life, he sat alone in his home where he allowed no one to see him. This part of his life could not be recorded. No, he couldn't let this half be written about.

One day, he called his daughter and gruffly croaked for help. He was ready to die, and his plans to try and die alone fell through. The drugs he hoped to overdose on weren't delivered. And so, this man was witnessed in his dying. He was assisted, seen and loved by his sons and daughter, their spouses and grandchildren, by the doctors and nurses milling about. Agnostic his entire life and hellbent on going out without fanfare or fuss, in his final hours, he sought out the one man in the family who believed in God. He asked if his ashes could be spread in the spot of the ocean he loved most. He wondered if kind words could be said about him after he was gone. Life, it turns out, wouldn't let him do it alone, and sent warm hands to hold him as he left this world. And I'm confident he was grateful for it in the end.

I know this shame. I know how it tastes of metal on the tongue. I know how afraid we are of being seen as the vulnerable things we are. How death can sometimes be perceived as failure. When my death comes, I recognize my wish to walk into the woods alone, as wild dogs do. To hide under the bows of bending fir trees. I know how terrifying it can be, almost unbearable, to allow yourself to be witnessed, not in the ways you have decided. When I feel worthy of love, if I have earned it, it is effortless to receive. But in the quiver of the dark night, when the wolves howl and rattling winds batter me when I am curled into myself, I don't know how to be seen. At my weakest hour, I close the closet door and lock it from the inside.

Years ago, I remembered sleeping in a tent with my mom when panic forced me awake like a great wave of impossible worry crashing over my head. I was sure my heartbeat slamming against my ribs would wake my mom, so I crept out of the tent. I crawled into the back seat of her black SUV and tucked myself into a ball to try and sleep. No one had to know. I could hide this defective part of me. At dawn, I would sneak back into my bed and pretend nothing happened, but I heard knocking on the car window a few moments later. On the ink-black night, my mom found me, my racing heart and shaking limbs, and forced me to be held.

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