Another year – piano house

When we moved last year, we were working with an assumption that we’d live at piano house for at least three years. Having moved at the beginning of May 2021, unable to host anyone for dinner under covid restrictions, we were preparing for a one-year anniversary housewarming when we received a shock eviction notice.

February, March and April of this year felt like being caught up in a spiral of disappointment. Each Sunday I arrived at church with emotions brimming, quite unsure as to which wrong turning I had taken to end up feeling quite so far out of control.

Being uprooted from the house felt particularly disquieting. I had not realised the extent to which it was acting as a tether to life in Sheffield, at a point that many other things were in question. Every subsequent failed attempt to secure a rental property felt like an extra clobbering.

This May, facing our last week in the house, we did our best to mark the occasion. Not knowing what was quite coming next for each of us meant that our gathering of memories felt instead like a bizarre stockpiling of misfortunes – spanning appendicitis, a burglary, car troubles, three separate bouts of poorly-timed covid, the strains of understaffing and ward changes, and the collective stress of an unwanted house move.

It is therefore not without amusement that I re-read the reflection from last year about what it is to season generously. This last year has felt like a reinforcement of the same – we might make plans, but we cannot determine them.

Happily, life goes on. We celebrated Georgia’s hen do last month, and Natalie and Christina are settled in their new home, while I wait for a move date to come soon.

And in among the exhaustion, anger, tears, eviction notice, and lost luggage, I have learned something more about the need to permit vulnerability.

In my mind, the word association cloud of vulnerability has ‘weakness’ hovering in large letters; whereas the cloud for courage has ‘strength’ writ large. Most of my life I have tried to manage, minimise, and suppress vulnerability.

But more and more, I realise that vulnerability is part of the human condition. As Brene Brown observes, vulnerability is a precondition for courage. Every example of courage is premised on vulnerability.

I took the above photo as I was sat on a train to Nice that truly felt like some cruel trial-by-train-journey, at a point where I was feeling vulnerable. It had taken me a full additional day of journeying to be sat on that train, and I no longer had my suitcase. What I did have were 10 days ahead of me in an unknown place before I needed to return to a new house that was not yet a home. I felt… in need of a hug.

In this set of circumstances however, I emerged much more grateful and triumphant upon arrival at Les Courmettes, and with new knowledge about what you do if you lose your luggage (you get on with it best you can and make it through).

This week I was with Lahari and Zeezy as we packed up Lahari’s flat when Zeezy asked me what I thought about stoicism. I replied with a fierce rejection of the element of stoicism that would praise our becoming impervious to what life may throw at us, but also with appreciation for what stoicism can teach us about there being both things beyond our control, and things which are truly ours.

Permitting vulnerability means that we neither seek to circumvent our feelings of exposure, or desire to indulge them, but that we instead pass through them with strength, compassion and dignity. We should do the same for others – neither seeking to circumvent or indulge their feelings of vulnerability, instead accompanying them with strength, compassion and dignity.

Jesus was vulnerable. Hounded by authorities and “being found in appearance as a man” (Philippians 2) he was crucified to death. Hungry, humiliated, betrayed, Jesus was not impervious to pain but vulnerable to them.

I thought that as I grew older, I would feel less vulnerable. I actually feel more acutely aware of what there is to lose. Far from being resentful of this, I am grateful, for I can see the beauty of a vulnerability which will bring us together and move us towards God if we let it. In our dependence and humility, vulnerability reveals our character, and, if we choose to act with courageous, the very best of us.

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