When I was six, my family went to a summer camp in Manitoba, Canada. We stayed in a cabin filled with moths about the size of my face. Did you know that moths were prodigious breeders? Who knew something so small could lay so many eggs? It was truly remarkable! My mom spent the entire stay with a broom in her hand and cursing the wretched beasts.
My brother and I spent the entire holiday roaming the fields, chasing garter snakes, and exploring every inch of that campground. From sun up to sundown, we ran and played with the other kids. We only came inside to refuel and reapply sunscreen and bug spray.
Oh, the adventures we had!
There was one place we didn’t want to go, and that was the old house at the end of a long dirt road. The way I remember it— keep in mind, I was very young— it was a gigantic three-story home that leaned slightly to the right and swayed in the wind. It had been painted white, but the paint was chipped, and the rotting wood underneath had been exposed. The exterior window shutters hung from rusted hinges. If you looked closely, you could see lace curtains hanging behind broken glass.
Wheat fields surrounded the home, and they stretched on forever. The warm breeze sent rippled waves through the ears of grain. The sun reflected off the wheat, and it looked like pure gold. It was tranquil, peaceful, and idyllic, but our eyes always returned to that old house standing watch.
It was empty, abandoned, and left to rot. It was a perfect place for ghosts, ghouls, or a more nefarious entity. I didn’t know about horror films at the time, but it’s safe to say that Hitchcock would’ve found inspiration in that old house. It was the place where your nightmares would fear to tread.
At first, I had no intention of going anywhere near that place. No, my friend, my moth swatting mother wasn’t raising a fool. Why tempt fate? Clearly, something horrible happened inside those walls. Why else would someone let it fall apart like that? No, we were all convinced that the ghost stories were true and I was happy to let them enjoy their afterlife in peace.
But there was a very intriguing part of those stories that got us all a buzz. Rumour had it, there was treasure hidden somewhere in that rundown house. Treasure! Gold bullions. Solid silver candlesticks. An ancient manuscript from the lost library of Alexandria.
Do you know what that would be worth? We’d be rich, and we’d be heroes! A certain archaeological, whip-slinging, fedora-wearing adventurer would be jealous.
I’ve always loved history, and visiting museums filled with old stuff was simply the best. They have stories to tell, and I’m a sucker for a good story. So, when the chance to find something that could end up in a museum (a museum!) came up? Well, it was enough to silence my better judgement and ignore the good sense my parents were trying to instil.
There was also a great deal of peer pressure from the older kids. What, are you chicken? Ah, a classic! Come on, don’t be such a little kid. Uh, I was a little kid, but okay, good one. Quit being so sensitive! Just pulling out all the cliches, eh. It’ll be fun, and who doesn’t like a little adventure? True, I do like adventures, and I might make a discovery that will end up in a museum.
A MUSEUM! Sorry for yelling, but that was just about the coolest thought my six-year-old brain could conjure. Was I in? Was I really going to abandon sound reasoning and logic?
Ghosts. A possible hideout for a serial killer. A house that could crumble and bury a group of meddlesome kids. A chance to find a historical artifact that could land me on the cover of an archeological magazine.
What’s a girl to do?
I’d lying if I said the peer pressure didn’t influence my decision, but what did me in was something more ingrained in my psyche. I’ve always been a tad bit prideful, and I couldn’t let these people think I was weak or scared. I was brave, strong, and I could handle anything they could. Just you wait and see. I’d show em!
A group of us set off down the long dirt road and up the hill. The house grew larger and more foreboding. I bit my bottom lip and glanced over my shoulder. The campground was getting farther away, and so were my parents. Could I run fast enough if I had to? Could I get back to them if something went wrong? The safety of the cabin and my parents seemed liked it was a thousand miles away.
“The curtain just moved,” one of the older kids said in a strained whisper. My head whipped back around, and my eyes followed his outstretched hand. The lace curtain fluttered, and my eyes widened. What if someone was in there? This was a bad idea. We should turn back.
But we kept walking, and I kept my fear to myself. I couldn’t admit that I was a scared little kid. Show weakness? I’d rather face down the ghost behind that lace curtain.
The inside of the house was as rotten as the outside. White sheets, covered in decades worth of dust, were draped over furniture. Chairs were tipped over. Long strips of wallpaper hung limply off the walls. Light streamed through cracked windows, and dust particles swirled as we disrupted their slumber.
The floorboards creaked under our feet, and above our heads, the house groaned in response. It was as if it was asking, who dares enter without my permission? And my heart beat faster than it ever had before.
Sweat clung to my forehead, my eyes were wide, and my breath came in short bursts. This was a bad idea. No, it was a horrible idea. We should turn back. Why aren’t we turning back? Well, none of us wanted to be the first to break and admit fear, weakness, or defeat.
We’d made it to the first-floor landing when a booming voice scared the living crap out of us. What the hell are you kids doing in here? Don’t you know it’s dangerous? Get the hell outta here.
No, it wasn’t the ghost of the previous owner or a serial killer who grew a conscience. It was the caretaker who must’ve seen us trekking up the dirt road. He marched us out the front door and stood guard on the porch as we made our way back to the camp without our treasure but with our lives.
Relief washed over me! I’d gone inside that haunted house, despite my fear, and now we were going home. I didn’t chicken out. No one knew how scared I was. I was brave, strong, and I needed to change my underwear.
If you’re about to applaud the bravery of a young kid, hold up. That’s not the point of this story, but it’s the part that most people pick up on. Bravery, courage, conquering fear. That’s what’s celebrated in life.
The question is: Why?
I don’t know where my need to be strong came from. This idea that I can’t show weakness, ever, and I always have to put on a brave. My parents never told us to toughen up or stiffen that upper lip. Of course, there were times when the moment called for bravery, and I had to do what needed to be done, fear be damned. But overall? We were never belittled for being afraid. On the contrary, we were held, protected, and loved when fear came for a visit.
This suck it up, take on the chin, stop being so sensitive, mentality is something I’ve put on myself. And I don’t know why I do it. Again, there are times when it’s useful. Walking into an operating room, for example, is a good time to bite my lip and get it done. I’m there for a good reason, a procedure that will save or improve my chronically ill life, so chin up and be brave.
But what about the moments before or after? Fear is a normal response, but it makes me feel weak, fragile, and vulnerable. It isn’t safe. I need to protect myself. I need to toughen up.
Courage is a badge of honour that’s worn with pride, and it’s encouraged by the majority of society. We’re told to suck it up and just deal with whatever we’re going through. The appearance of unwavering strength is praised while any sign of weakness is mocked, ridiculed, and berated.
When someone falls or breaks? They were too weak to handle this situation, but I’m different. I’m stronger, braver, and more resilient so, I’ll be okay. I can get through anything! Except pride comes before a fall, and I will fall sooner or later. We all do.
I know that it’s a protective mechanism, but how’s it working out? To be honest, I’m a little tired, and I’m starting to wonder how long I can keep it up. I don’t know if I have the stamina to keep going like this. My legs are shaking, my muscles are straining, and my smile is faltering. I just don’t know if I am strong enough for this situation.
Was that too honest? Sorry, I’ll toughen it up.
It starts at such a young age. I was six years old, and I knew that I couldn’t show any signs of weakness or fear. I wanted to fit in with my peers, with my microcosm of society, so I needed to put on a brave face and walk into the haunted house. If I didn’t? Well, I didn’t want to find out.
What about now? Am I ready to find out what happens when I show weakness? Can I crumble into a million pieces? Can I let my guard drop, be weak while I heal, and slowly put myself back together?
We’re expected to live in this constant state of courage and resilience, but no one tells us how to keep it up. How do we do it? How do we hide our vulnerabilities for an indefinite amount of time?
We can’t! I can’t. It’s not possible. Exhaustion will take over, and our weaknesses will become very apparent. We get snippy with people at the grocery store, or we pick fights with strangers online. We cry alone in a bathroom stall because heaven forbid anyone sees our tears.
What would happen if we could let people see us at our lowest, most vulnerable, and at our weakest. If, when asked how we’re doing, we could say that we’re not doing good instead of saying, I’m fine?
What would happen if I was completely honest and told you that I’m overwhelmed and tears are stinging my eyes? I could use a good cry, and I need a hug. If I could say that? If you could say it?
Would that be liberating? Or, are you cringing? If you are, that’s okay! I’m right there with you, but this is a time for some make-believe. It’s a daydream. A what-if portrait painted by a tired mind. Let’s just play it out.
I’m picturing a world where expressing my weaknesses is seen as an act of courage. Being vulnerable is a badge of honour. Letting my tears fall freely is applauded. It’s a world where strength is found in a moment of sensitivity. In that world, I can say that I am weak right now, and the response is simply: What’s wrong with that?
Do you want to know the curious thing I’ve learned since starting this blog? Since I started being more honest about who I am, what I’m feeling, showing my weaknesses? Instead of being a repellent and scaring people off, it’s brought people closer.
Contrary to everything we’ve been told, weakness is a part of the human experience. It’s in those moments of pure vulnerability that we heal, rest, and discover a strength we never knew we had. It’s in those moments that we find a community of support and encouragement. When we dare to be weak, we give others permission to do the same.
We’re told that there’s shame in being weak, but when I see you being authentic, vulnerable and owning your weaknesses with pride, I’m in awe. You inspire me. You give me the courage to let my guard down. You help me heal, rest, and that’s an incredible gift.
I just posted this but it fees too fluffy a coincidence not to share here too, after reading your post…
Like fragile crystal,
and held together with wobbly glue –
with a kind of shy lightning.
vulnerable place to be.
I have had about a gazillion people explain to me,
where this scared thing comes from
and what it means.
But it’s actually something else.
when the thing that might just have to curl up and die any moment –
and take you with it –
is the one thing you’re really living for.
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Yes!! Yes to all of it. Sometimes being vulnerable is being brave too.
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