There are many surprisingly vulnerable moments that come along with parenting. Being a parent makes you feel exposed in all kinds of ways. You examine the kind of person that you are and you wonder what it is that young ones are picking up from you. You worry about being able to provide the quality of life you would hope for them. You hope that in the future they won’t judge your decisions too harshly.
For me, there has been an additional way that parenting has made me feel vulnerable that has surprised me these last few years. As my kids get older, I have begun to introduce them to the things that I love; books, music, and especially movies. Sharing those things you treasure with the people that you treasure feels like giving a piece of yourself away. You watch them to see how they are reacting to this thing that has brought your life so much pleasure and you hope that they find the joy in it that you have. I remember the elation of watching Star Wars with Thomas for the first time… and the twinge of disappointment as he was sound asleep before the attack on the Death Star began. It’s silly, but in that moment, I felt a little rejected. His love of The Force Awakens has softened the blow considerably!
I had another such moment a couple of weekends ago as we all huddled on the couch and watched E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. E.T. is my first love, the first film I have even the vaguest memory of seeing in the theater. It is timeless to me. Things I appreciated about it as a kid have only been enhanced by the aspects I enjoy as an adult. It is a beautiful story of friendship, family, love, and loss. It’s funny, suspenseful, touching, and the music is among John Williams’ finest work, which is saying a lot. The reception from the kids was lukewarm. The dark tone of the opening scared them a bit, but as the movie went on, they got more into it, asking questions every couple minutes or so. I’ll admit, that at some point I got so lost in the film myself that I stopped monitoring the kids’ responses.
I noticed something watching the film this last time, something I’ve seen before but that hit me in a new way. In the opening of the film, you see several of the alien species roaming through the forest, apparently on some sort of expedition to study our planet’s plant life. As danger comes and they have fear of being discovered, a cavity in their torsos lights up. They use that light to communicate with each other. As the film goes on we see that light again on E.T. and realize that the light is exposing his heart. E.T. is from a species that literally connects heart to heart. Unable to communicate the way he would with another of his species, E.T. forms some sort of psychic bond with Elliot. Elliot feels what he E.T. feels. They share both emotional and physical experiences, even drunkenness (which was fun to explain to the kids). And when E.T.’s health begins to decline, Elliot’s does as well. Elliot, a child of divorce who is becoming increasingly cynical in his young age, begins to feel. He literally suffers with E.T., the very definition of compassion.
Yes, it’s corny as hell to draw an illustration from a movie that is nearly as old as I am, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Look, this election season has been hard. It feels like it has brought out the worst in us. Our fears, anxieties, biases, prejudices, and insecurities have all been laid bare. I know that many have misgivings about the future and some worry that regardless of the result, there are just some things that cannot be unsaid. It feels like we may not be able to heal from this. The temptation then is to protect ourselves, retreat into our echo chambers, put our armor on, and harden to the world around us. The temptation is to grow cold and cynical. The challenge for us is to resist these temptations and to live into a love that makes us compassionate. We need to live with our hearts exposed.
There is a quote by Kurt Vonnegut that I love:
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
I believe this election cycle was the natural result of a world that has made us harden. We’ve closed our hearts to people of other races. We’ve closed our hearts to immigrants and are attempting to close our borders. We’ve closed our hearts to women. We’ve closed our hearts to the poor. We’ve closed our hearts to the point of thinking that we always need to be armed against our fellow citizens. The result was a candidate seemingly lacking in empathy, who reflected a notion that the only way to be in this world is tough and crass. A candidate who reflects a sense of insecurity and instability that says we can talk loud and take what we want to hide the fact that we feel small and scared.
The revolution we need in our nation is not a political one. We need a revolution of the heart. We need to be willing to be exposed and vulnerable, even when life has beaten us down. C.S. Lewis said “to love is to be vulnerable” and we need far more love in our world. We need more people who are willing to take on the suffering of others. We need more bleeding hearts. We need more dreamers and wide-eyed optimists to push against the ongoing tide of cynicism because make no mistake, this election was the natural result of a cynical electorate. We need to expose our vulnerabilities and communicate heart to heart.
I will go out to vote in a few hours. It seems naive to write such fluffy sentiment when so much is seemingly at stake. I actually have a great deal of peace about the results of the election. I am worried about the world of November 9th. I am worried about repeating our mistakes. I am worried that a political system that neatly divides us in to constituency groups will continue to harden us against an “opposition” that is actually our neighbor. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia of having watched a childhood favorite movie and getting to do so with my babies, but I want to be soft. I want to be pliable. I want to wear my heart on my sleeve. I want to be a passionate lover of the world knowing full well that I may have my heart broken. I want to suffer with those who hurt and grieve with those who mourn. I want the good that I do to come from a place of deep connection with people, not some sense of obligation. I want to risk connection with people and put my fears aside.
I want to be like E.T. an live with my heart exposed. And I hope I will find others who want to do so that we might live life connecting heart to heart.