How to Be Caught By Surprise

There are these moments that I witness, these miniscule seconds of a facial expression or movement, where I see it. I used to see it and be uncomfortable. But now, I feel a sadness that rustles in my gut like a cat swishing it's tail while it sleeps. I saw it today on the subway. A man jumped up from his seat and asked, "Where? Where?" and it was all over his face. Maybe he'd been sleeping, maybe he'd been thinking about what he would say when he saw her or him or them. But he had been elsewhere, outside the confines of our subway car stopped at the station. Both men on either side of me answered him, one even beginning to stand up as he called out the station, maybe in response to what he saw on the man's face. 

It was a pure unmitigated vulnerability. I see this on so many faces when the person is too caught up in the moment to hide it. But it's always there, isn't it? It's there behind the laugh or the snide remark or the silently pressed lips. And whenever I see that vulnerability, that complete and utter lack of pretension, show, or knowing-it-all-ness, I want to cry. Because when I see that on someone else's face, I see myself. I see our humanity. It's so close, but we work so hard to keep it at bay, to keep it hidden. 

But really, if we were more open and honest and said, "I don't know" more than we said, "let me tell you," or if we began to stand up to help someone with their questions, or if we said, "that's okay," more than we said, "how could you?" we would be different, wouldn't we? I would be different. And I think that the sudden emotion that jerks me out of my collection of short stories and into the questioning man's life is not only a reaction to that vulnerability, but a desire for it. 

And I'm trying to tell you exactly how it felt as the words on the pages in my book got all fuzzy and jammed up like rush hour traffic: I thought about how when we open ourselves up, we not only have to open ourselves to the good things, but we make ourselves susceptible to the bad things, too. And I thought about my Subway BFF and the courage and openness it took for him to speak to me. And what a happy liar I was, staring him in the face and rejecting what he so kindly offered me, what I so badly wanted to say yes to but didn't know how. 

We have grown careful not to expose the fragile parts of ourselves. And with just cause. Because fragile things break easily, crumble quickly, and sometimes they become irreparable. But perhaps we should not be careful not to expose ourselves, but to be careful when we do expose our tender bits. And we should be careful when others expose theirs. And maybe one day, I will stop writing about being vulnerable, and become open to others in a real, authentic way. 

Because there are certain times, when I see that vulnerability, usually exhibited as shock on someone's face, I am not moved to tears, but rather disgust. And for the same reason that I want to cry, I feel dirty. Because I see myself there. I identify fully with that exposure. And I want very badly to deny it. 

All this because a guy fell asleep on the train and got lost, disoriented. And the men on either side of me did not despise his utter confusion, but situated him with a few kind words and a small gesture. Perhaps I've been thinking too much and too hard about it. But there it is. And I'm giving it to you in the name of exposure and vulnerability. 

I am beginning to believe that every act we place the label vulnerability upon is really just another way of saying "Love me. Love me. Love me. For no reason, just love me."


  1. wow! that makes so much sense. i never thought of vulnerability that way before. maybe it's not such a bad thing, we all need and want to be loved. i think it has so much to do with being real and honest. taking the mask off. you are teaching me my lovely. i love you.

  2. I read the wonderful things you write, and then I see your mother's reaction, and I kinda envy her. I hope that someday my own daughter will not only find such insights, but share them with me.

  3. Your mom's comment got me a little teary. It is wonderful.

    I'm just a random person who found your blog while perusing blogs of English teachers in Korea and became intrigued by your entries. This entry in particular is, well, magnificent. I think your fiancee is darn lucky to be marrying such a beautiful soul. It really warmed my heart a little reading this entry. I hope you always remain in a state where you notice and appreciate the sweet, tender moments in life, so that you can put it all down in beautifully simple words for others like me to read. G'day!


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