On Being Vulnerable

I watch So You Think You Can Dance?.

Go ahead and laugh if you like. I'll wait.

I've been watching the show since Season 1. My wife and I saw the promos, and we thought it was just going to be an American Idol style showcase of retards who bounce around. "It could be pretty funny," she said. "Eh, if you're going to have it on while I work..." I replied.

There were some truly, truly amazing dancers amongst the silly folk. And having taken a little bit of dance in high school (if by dance, you mean "stood there like a really strong prop because I was able to lift the girls") I knew just enough to know what good technique looked like. So, I gave it a shot and fell in love with it.

The other week, Jeremy was hanging out at the house while we watched SYTYCD. That evening, there was a particularly moving piece where Marko danced for the very first time in front of his mother (who flew in from Guam to see him) about judgement and the guilt that results from realizing you've hurt someone (for life, to me) when you convince them your opinion is fact. And it made me cry:

(Can't see the video? click here)

"You're really crying?" Jeremy asked.

"Yup," I replied. "It was beautiful. It's my favorite Jeff Buckley cover, it's a powerful message, and he just danced in front of his mother for the first time. How are you not crying?"

He sighed and Tweeted about it for the world to see (he's since deleted it, because he realized he was stupid). And I didn't really care. I've long since stopped caring what the world thinks about the moments where I'm vulnerable. I suppose that'll happen after spending eight years writing about your most vulnerable moments on the internet for the world to see.

After a while, peoples' thoughts on whether or not you should be vulnerable just don't matter, because the people who do get it and do respond and do write to tell me thanks for letting them know they're not the only person on earth who felt the way they feel far outweigh macho pricks who think crying is for girls.

I try to live with feeling. I try to embrace moments. I have left myself wide open (stupidly, even) to let people really, really hurt me. And I can't be sorry about any of it, because I learned something from each experience. I won't lie -- I try like hell to put up walls and keep myself protected. And I do often watch as people bounce off my walls and get confused as to why they were even there in the first place. But when I believe in someone or something, I open myself wide and try to believe the best about it.

And sometimes, it hurts. Badly. Very, very badly.

But sometimes, it is rewarding and opening and validating and real and warm. And it makes me realize that the ups can't come without the downs. Stars don't twinkle without the darkness behind and around them. And life is a connected series of moments and experiences where you try things out (usually because they just feel like the right thing to do) and let the chips fall where they may.

And that translates into things like watching So You Think You Can Dance? if for no other reason than because you can recognize when one of those dancers is laying it all on the line and opening themselves to that moment and risking it all. And you can see when they've experienced something so vicious and painful in their lives and it comes through in their movement and their face. And you can relate to it, because you've felt it and seen it and know it. Like this piece -- which no matter how many times I see it or prepare myself for it, never EVER fails to make me cry -- about addiction:

(Can't see the video? click here)

The moment for me that just makes me collapse emotionally is at 1:07, when he grabs her arm and is in complete control of her and just looks so malevolent... And she can't escape. So she surrenders. She gives in. And he floats her as far as he can take her. Because that's what addiction is like. Once you realize you're there, you fight -- HARD -- and you just cannot escape, so you surrender. You give in. You feel as if your life will never be without it. And it carries you as far as it can, until eventually even it isn't enough, and it all collapses.

And if you've ever known anyone who has (or yourself have) experienced addiction, you know exactly what I'm talking about. How does that not make you want to cry? It's pain, personified. And if you know pain, and you allow yourself to be vulnerable in that moment when you watch this, you can relate to someone else's pain. And that is beautiful.

It's human. It's connection. And it's why we're here.

If you're never vulnerable; if you never open yourself to the possibility of being hurt, you also never open yourself to the possibility of being truly happy. You will feel nothing. And an unfeeling life is not a life worth living.