I recently heard a fascinating podcast interview of John Lewis by Krista Tippett, where he mentions how showing feelings and true emotions can be perceived as weakness in this culture, and how saying “I love you” can sometimes feel so difficult. As a fan of Bené Brown and her work on shame, I would say that touching into true emotions makes us feel vulnerable.
In the dunes by Lake Michigan, two children, young, unguarded, allow themselves unmeasured pleasure, dragging their feet in the sand and crowing at the trail they make. Now they thread, at top speed, through the still-bare shrubs at the edge of the sand hills, whipping branches behind them. I catch myself thinking I want to play that way, too, but such full-hearted enjoyment would be unseemly in an adult, if anyone were watching.
A person I care deeply for shared a confidence with me, because she felt safe doing so. She is smart, educated, worldly, and her dignity in the eyes of her peers is a matter of great importance to her. She confided that she trusted the wrong people and wound up losing considerable sums of money. The weight of this loss, for her, is doubled by the fear she carries of anyone knowing, of being judged foolish, unworthy of respect.
When I think of her, even in spite of what occurred, I do not find her unworthy. Dignity is not about appropriate behavior, about not taking risks or making mistakes. Right now, I feel it is about soul, about recognizing humanity (my own, as well as hers). I think of dignity as the ability to look up, around, even when fear would hide my eyes. It is standing with clarity and courage, after tripping along the path, or watching another falter alongside me.
There is a photograph my talented great-aunt, Hermi Friedmann, took some 60 or so years ago, of a Colombian peasant woman, perhaps of African ancestry, sitting in front of a large pile of pineapples. Her head is wrapped in a scarf, her fingers work-worn, holding a cigarette to her aged face. She looks weary, and strong. She is the picture of dignity and beauty. (A copy of this photograph can be found here.)
It is in the recognition of our humanity, our timeless strengths as well as our wrenching weaknesses, in allowing ourselves vulnerability and self-acceptance, that old, wounding patterns can come loose and be released, and new, heartening opportunities opened.
Today, I will run in the sand.