by Eric

Being truly vulnerable is both scary and humbling. Relating stories from the past where things went badly for me due to someone else is easy. After all, we escape scrutiny. At the same time, relating stories of the past where we made mistakes due to foolishness and immaturity, while not escaping scrutiny, are often let go with either an eye roll or a thought of “but at least they’ve come a long ways from there.”

True vulnerability is when they is no out. When you are the only one carrying responsibility and, while immaturity may have played a part, it was absolutely no excuse. We should have known better. It’s this level of vulnerability that I am slowly stepping toward. Why?

As alluded to in prior posts, I feel I’ve come a long way in my life. From making bad decisions and going through rough patches, to discovering growth and seeking out purpose, my life has been a series of connect-the-dots with points consisting of positive steps and negative set backs.

By moving toward being truly vulnerable I lay my path out for everyone to see and even judge if they so choose. It also illustrates where my thinking was at different points and how that may have affected where it’s at now.

A lesson in suffering

I was four or five year old. We rightly lived in Wausau at this point, so it was definitely summer of 1979 or 1980. As I’m writing in this I am now remembering that this era started me on playing alone outside. While this probably doesn’t seem odd to most, it becomes curious when you realize I had three siblings. Two are/were two years apart, and my sister is four years older. So while all of us are well within an age window of being able to play with each other (and often did), I usually took it upon myself to play outside without anyone else. This is something that would continue on for at least the next 9-10 years.

One day while bouncing an ordinary rubber ball outside (think big bin of $1 balls at the toy store. Not red-balls-of-death used at school for dodgeball) I noticed a bird near the garage entry door. This actually may be the first time I can remember seeing an animal up close and personal. It was sort of walking around minding its own business, seemingly oblivious to the young child a mere fifteen feet away from it. I used this shroud of unawareness to sneak even closer.

At this point, I question popped into my head. This may not be an unusual question for a four or five year old, or maybe it is. I had wondered, “Could I throw the ball at the bird before it had a chance to fly away?” This was not intended for cruelty, and upon writing this this is genuinely the first time I have ever thought about that. This question and what followed were simply to satisfy my own childlike curiosity.

As the ball left my hand I recall a split moment of excitement. I had done it! It was going to make it to the bird before it could fly away! This was the answer! What I could never have predicted was what happened next. Immediately after the ball hit, the bird stumbled and fell down. Working to pick itself back up, it fell down a few more times, each time more and more confused and disoriented. It was upon witnessing this that the unexpected happened. After a split second of my own confusion (what I later learned is called shock), I collapsed to the ground sobbing. I couldn’t believe what I had done. Here was a creature so intent on doing what it needed to do to survive that it had ignored me.. possibly viewed me as non-threatening even, and I took that opportunity to inflict harm on it, but not out of a desire to create pain, simply for my own selfish desires.. To satisfy my own curiosity.

I cried and ran off as fast as my feet would carry me. I told absolutely no one. The shame I felt can only be compared to a few other times in my life. The lesson in suffering was that no amount of feeling bad or ashamed was going to change the suffering of the bird. I deserved my suffering. They did not.

Sadly I wish I could say this parable carried with me for the rest of my life. In truth, it did carry with me so far as animals go. I have never been able to harm or do wrong to another animal in my entire life since. As far as humans go, this lesson took a few more decades to come back to me. In fact, every time I had thought back to that moment, the only feeling or memory I ever had of it was shame. This is probably the reason I’ve never shared this story with anyone. It’s only within the last few years that I understand now how this story relates to my life, a dot to be connected.

The bird is any single person on this planet. The ball can be anything. An idea, a want, a question, a goal, a thought, a sentence. Once we put it out into the world that’s it. It’s out. We can’t get it back, and it will continue forward toward whomever is in its path. What if, instead of a ball, I had thrown bird seed at the bird? Or nesting material? Or a handful or worms? Is what we put out into the world going to help or harm people once it makes contact?

The lesson in suffering was simple.

We are the source of our own suffering. It is impossible for us to suffer while we are helping others, and it is impossible to escape our own suffering when we are hurting others. We may try to deny this. I certainly went years with treating others badly, feeling as though I wouldn’t suffer as long as I didn’t care about what I was doing (fyi this is how a sociopath operates). At the end of it though, our denied suffering always catches up to us. This is exactly why you’ll notice no one ever says “That terrible person lived happily to a ripe old age and died peacefully among those they loved.” So we are left either needing to make amends in life, or paying our dues at the end.

As for the bird, I don’t know what ever happened to it. It was gone when I had returned to the garage later that day. It could have flown away, or been easily caught by a stray cat. Whether it lived or died, what I had done to it impacted the rest of my life negatively; only fair for me having done the same to it. Maybe my life will meet a similar tragic ending. Until then I use this lesson in my own suffering to ensure everything I put out is meant to help.

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