The shoulder is an amazing combination of strength and fragility. Many years ago, at 15, the right shoulder attached to the rest of my body dislocated and changed my relationship to movement. My role in the scene took a half hour max, yet in seconds, my shoulder just popped. My 11-year-old brother had been stuffed, head first, into a snow bank until he could barely breath. The meanest and biggest offender of the bullies in our neighborhood was Frank. There was something about the Marmor children he could not stand. At any siting of either my brother or myself, his eyes would gleam and he’d galvanize any lemming, bully he could find to harass, spit, beat or menace us. The snow incident was simply not the first or even the biggest show of this determined boy to demean the Marmor children.
I had begun my tenth year in High School and my life had suddenly changed. For the first time, I had a set of friends who didn’t know about my history of being bullied. So, I had a cadre of people who cared about me and that bolstered me. The year of 1982, there was an incredible blizzard in New York City. My best friend (Mitchell) had come to spend the day with me when my brother ran up the street to tell us what had happened. Tear stained and panting, he went upstairs to tell our parents. My mother and father, brother and I began walking down toward the corner. I know Mitchell right was behind. Words were exchanged and Frank just swung a swift punch in the face at my father. As I ran towards his neck, my mind went empty and my body went for survival. My hands squeezed as he fell to the ground and we rolled on the cement until other boys just piled on top of us, me at the bottom. POP!
And…the pile getting lighter, Mitchell, large in his own right, started picking them off of me, one at time. I got a hand up and as we walked away, my mom noticed my right shoulder. She just walked over to me and… POP. Right back in place without saying anything or even really stating what was happening. I knew it hurt but I was revved up from the fight and she just made a night at the hospital emergency department disappear from our future. That POP was some of the most intense pain I had ever felt at the time.
Over the years it got to a sort-of-healed place and I could use it for softball and many other physical activities. Over time though, it has changed the way I use my entire body. I can’t throw anything, can barely have a bag strap lean on it and I sleep so as not to have it touch the bed or lean too far forward when on my side. I can put my coat on and take it off with some difficulty and have learned to do many things with the compensation of the rest of my muscles and bones. Last year I went to an orthopedic surgeon to learn that fragments of bone are just chipping off my shoulder. This courageous joint has worked as hard as it can work and will be removed exactly 35 years after being hurt.
These last ten years have been brutal with physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and modalities with names I’ve forgotten. Many practitioners have asked, “Who won the fight?” Well, I think of Frank every day and my guess is he does not think of me at all. It was a blip in his life even though he was shamed for getting beat by girl. Now it will be exorcised out of me. Will there ever be a day when I don’t think of Frank and what happened or turn toward my right shoulder as it sears in pain and mutter, “fucking shoulder” under my breath? I don’t know. But I do know that this boy/now man will not have to be the story.
I have finally realized, two weeks before the surgery that the story is about courage and vulnerability. The hand in hand nature of these two dichotomous ways of being in the world, one toward the world in defense and the other open to the world with compassion. That moment of running toward someone with the intent to harm for whatever reason…honor, fear, pent up anger from years of abuse on that very corner is courageous, no doubt. Not a year earlier I had beat up a police officer, his partner laughing and laughing at him for getting beat by a young wily teen girl.
Waiting to learn
knowing even the word
it comes with time
Over the past three years, my search for vulnerable, safe and an honest acknowledgment of my own feelings has led me to a more flexible way of managing the world around me. The realization that this shoulder had changed the rest of my body helped me get compassionate and finally ask for help.
The greatest vulnerability aside from asking for help is the care I will need post surgery. It has already begun with doctors and nurses asking me questions about myself, (I ask the questions, I am the therapist) and people worrying about me and planning my care. I am about to head into a place of radical vulnerability.
The idea of radical vulnerability is harder than radical acceptance. Acceptance of this nature comes easy for me. I literally accept (radically) all of my clients and what they do to manage inner pain and the pain their bodies put them through due to disability. I have slowly learned to accept my own body pain and the ways I shift and move to not hurt on the inside as well as the outside. There is still a part of me that is negotiating how radically I can accept me but I have it down for others. When clients are vulnerable with me I am honored. When I learn their inner most desires, fears, losses, and loves; I am humbled. Vulnerability is often at the core of these precious relationships. But, Radical Vulnerability of self, how much can I stand?
This has brought me to the idea of resilience and the problem it is has created in my life. I have been told I am resilient. The question, “Who won the fight?” can easily be answered with some form of my resilience story. That story of resilience leaves my weakest and most vulnerable parts hanging out to dry. Resilience is the idea that we can handle anything, that we are strong and powerful. The beating, teasing and any other traumas we have experienced creates a stronger individual. I have been praised throughout my childhood and well into my adulthood for my resilience. The other side of that story is that I can’t be vulnerable or even weak. I can’t be afraid because I am resilient. Asking for help becomes a vulnerability that is unacceptable to my resilient self. Do I throw away the idea of resilient or the idea of vulnerability? Tough question. Resilient kept me alive, gave me courage to fight Frank. Vulnerable has given me friends, a beautiful child and an amazing wife. But, has it kept me alive?
Given what I know now, I can see that if no one had ever taught me to be resilient, I may have been vulnerable but it wasn’t the time for vulnerability. Hardening to the world around me may have kept me alive as a child but it can’t work for me now as an adult. Just like vulnerability may not have served me as a young person. I knew no other option and now that I do know another I look at my choice to have surgery as the culmination of the idea of vulnerability. I will ask for help. I will admit that my shoulder hurts, a lot. I will heal and focus on the weakness so as to make it stronger. Not throw away the weakness because it hurts and be resilient enough to power though.
May I respect my vulnerability
May I listen for the vulnerability in others
May I accept my weaknesses
May I sit with the weaknesses of others