This is a story about learning the hard way how to be vulnerable.
The summer before I started high school my church youth group took a biking trip to Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Every day we’d bike for several hours, then pitch camp at a state park for the evening.
My friend Tommy was also on this trip, and I had a crush on him. (Not his real name, obviously.)
It was the second day of the trip, and we’d arrived at the campground–all of us except for Tommy. I noticed he wasn’t there, and I figured he’d just fallen behind the group and would show up soon.
But he didn’t. The evening became dark, we ate dinner, and still no Tommy. I was starting to panic by that point, but I was afraid of being teased–“Oooo! You must have noticed he was gone because you LIKE him!” Which, yeah, I did. But I was afraid to admit it.
It was stupid and foolish of me, but fear is a powerful force. It’s easy for me as an adult to feel frustrated with my 14yo self, but she felt scared and fragile, and she felt the need to protect herself from the slings and arrows of outrageous puberty.
Anyway, right as we were about to head to our tents for the night, Tommy rode into camp. He’d been seriously lost–for hours–and none of our adult leaders had noticed, much less gone looking for him. (Remember, no cell phones! Seems a lifetime ago…)
It was a total lack of careful leadership on their part, and it was apparent to Tommy that no one had even noticed his absence. I can’t even imagine how wounding that felt. For my part, I felt relieved he was safe, and completely ashamed of myself. And while I didn’t quite have the words to articulate it, I understood that I’d been willing to sacrifice another person’s safety to protect myself.
I swore I’d never do that again.
I still experience fear, of course, and I still have the impulse to try to protect myself (which is impossible), but I often think of those terrible hours when I knew I should speak up, but yet did not.
Later today I’ll hand my phone to my own 14yo and say, “Here’s something I wrote that you may find interesting.”
What I want him to know is that when people hurt us (even the people who love us most), they are often afraid and trying to protect themselves. Knowing this might not make the wound less painful, but it might be a good first step toward healing. And those people who hurt us–as I hurt Tommy–might grow and change as a result of making those blunders with us.
I said to a student the other day, “Mistakes can be effortlessly folded into the ecosystem of who we are.”
She looked at me askance and said, “Dr. Moore, you’re sounding New-Agey again.”
I laughed. But if I were to rephrase the same idea in Christian language it would sound like this: Grace is at the heart of the universe. And grace is more abundant than we can even imagine.
Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.