Something, isn’t it? That in times of crises, we see a side of others and maybe ourselves that lurks under the surface, waiting for just this moment to breathe. Sometimes these “strangers” shriek with self-centeredness. Sometimes the stranger stops to help the craggy old man or the shaken single mom.
Sometimes the stranger is this friendly guy in me that stops to talk to the other guy walking his dog. I’ve seen him for years, I think his name is Bob, but after the hurricane Florence, I make sure to ask him how he’s doing.
The stranger can also be that panicked Facebooker worried about their cable and confused why their tax base hasn’t protected them.
Is the stranger who we really are? We try so hard to hide him from others. Are we really surprised when he surfaces? We knew he was there all along, in us and in others. And guess what—so does everyone else. I have many strangers—that’s what makes living with me so much fun. One stranger yells at the TV when the Phillies give up a home run to end their run at the post season. Another stranger sheds tears when he sees a little turtle struggling to get out of our pond. Some men have muscles, I have tears.
We hide these guys because they are our vulnerabilities. No, they are not us, but they are a part of us. Our vulnerabilities don’t have to define us, but our vulnerabilities don’t have to our weaknesses either. Sounds like a paradox but I believe our vulnerabilities can be a strength.
We often say, “You are only as strong as your weakest link,” right? Well then, knowing that weakest link could make you stronger, right? If you know you are prone to anger, you can take steps to avoid situations that tick you off. Like watching your favorite baseball team? Well, it’s a choice to accept the consequences of being embarrassed after feeling the passion of being a fan from Phila.
So many times, I meet people who are seemingly unaware or simply stopped caring how they affect others around them. Maybe they learned to love themselves a little too much. Maybe they have insulated themselves with like-minded mirrors and bask in their own glow. Yet in crisis, mirrors break.
After a ferry boat capsized in Haiti years ago, the Coast Guard responded, and I was asked to help defuse their stress. A huge body builder with bulging muscles wept after describing trying to pick up a body out of the sea but he felt the ligaments and sinews give way. He was left holding part of an arm and realized that as strong as he was, the body is just a fragile balance of microscopic cells held together with water and air.
At that moment, he felt incredibly weak. But now he was armed with the experience that mortality is temporal. When we come to this realization, it shakes the very fiber of our soul—mortality is temporal. We fight it, we rail against it, we hide our kids from it—but we have nowhere to hide when it corners us in a hurricane riddled house, on a water saturated road, or in front of a small casket.
In our vulnerability we finally learn what really matters–not cable TV, not a cold refrigerator, or even dry socks. In our vulnerability we learn about our stranger(s). If we think we can hide them, we have learned nothing. If we learn that maybe we are mortal after all, we get stronger.
I have two recurring nightmares, I have had them for years. Either I’m called back to the Navy or I’m back in graduate school. In both I am failing miserably. I’m lost, running from class to class or compartment to compartment onboard a ship. I’m in the wrong uniform, I am a soup-sandwich. Eventually I wake up in a sweat.
My dream is really about my fear that I will be found out for who I really am. I’m not a real doctor or a real Captain, I’m just little Andy Davidson who cried at his birthday party.
Yea, I guess I am. But I’m more. I’m Andy Davidson who with the help of God got through a lot of bad &*#% surrounded by people who love him. Goodbye Florence, hello strangers, it’s good to finally know you.
Andy is a Clinical Psychologist, living on the NC Outer Banks, who lost his son in a tragic motorcycle accident and now authors articles on bereavement. The quiz is available! Go to http://andymdavidson.com/Home/Pgd to find out if you may have Prolonged Grief Disorder. Look forward to his upcoming posts, and book, “When Sunday Smiled.” Follow him at his website, AndyMDavidson.com and Facebook.com/ThroughLifeandLoss to find out more about prolonged grief.