We had a close friend visiting us last week from Bangalore.
Anil was going through a messy divorce and couldn’t hold back his tears while narrating how what seemed to him like regular disagreements in the family had culminated into a divorce that he didn’t see coming. I could see that my seven-year-old boy who had entered the house just then was a little taken aback by seeing his favourite uncle in tears for the first time.
After Anil left, I reached out to my son, for I had noticed how he had hurriedly exited the room leaving the three of us alone to deal with the situation.
“Why was uncle crying, mama?” he asked me, looking distraught when I approached him.
“He was hurt, and it’s alright to get overwhelmed at times,” I explained to him.
“It made me very uncomfortable,” he admitted to me. “Besides, I’ve seen my guy friends always getting teased for crying when hurt,” he explained.
I sat him down that evening to explain to him that men and women had the same gamut of emotions and choices when it came to expressing themselves. That it is equally courageous for every man and woman to feel everything and to express the same emotions without shame. I shared with him the stories about all the men in my life who had shown exceptional strength especially when they were vulnerable, affectionate, and empathetic. The men who had inspired me in many ways by bravely communicating their feelings without shutting down, ignoring, or leading with contempt.
I shared stories with him about his father and my husband who never felt the need to pretend to be tough about hiding his failures, or how he had no fears or never needed any help. He had always chosen to be real, honest, and open with us in his most vulnerable moments. He was the man who had the strength to allow us to see him on his good days and bad days, on his tough days full of struggle without feeling the need to put up a forced smile.
I shared stories with him about his grandfather and my father who never cared about the world and laughed and cried while bringing up a rebellious daughter who would pretty much want to do everything that he and the world didn’t conform to.
I shared stories with him about his uncle and my brother who had never been insecure to let me take the lead in the family and in his life as his elder sister whom he followed pretty much everywhere. He spoke fearlessly about his gains and losses, his failures, his heartbreak, and how he fell flat on his face often.
I shared stories with him about the uncle he knew as my friend who often wept, depressed over loneliness and a failing romance, but who chose to reach out and ask for support instead of putting on a robe of pretense or perfect his act for the world to see.
I shared stories with him about my several close friends, mentors, and colleagues who bravely admitted when they messed up, when they were sorry, when they didn’t know what they felt or what they wanted, and when they needed me to support them at that moment. When they spoke for their heart, their pain, their anger, and their angst without having to craft the right words to camouflage or mask it.
There’s no need to rip out the uncomfortable chapters from our lives, I reminded him.
We will all have phases that might be lined with shame, guilt, regret, and things that are beyond our control. And there’s no need to forget, ignore, or push these away. Because even if people knew these things about our story, it doesn’t mean that we are defective in any way—these are the moments that build us. The exact moment when we have nothing left to hide, the exact second when we look up from our lowest point and let ourselves be loved anyway.
I, and everyone else, loved these men for their vulnerable moments. Because it was a part of them that was immensely brave. And beautiful.
Changing the world, one gentle feeling at a time!