when the rock
A man who avoids vulnerability will eventu-
ally be lost when life’s worst comes his way.
no man wants to reach the end of his life looking like a turtle withdrawn into its shell. But plenty of men do spend a lifetime tucking their emotions
out of sight and developing a crusty exterior to keep others
at bay. Such habits can ultimately fail us.
Do you know someone who figures tears are for sissies
and fears are for fools?
I think of Ron, a heavy equipment mechanic who built
roads across northern Canada. Ron raised a large family
in a small home. The house sprouted many additions over
the years, and in his final days he was talking about widening the bathroom door to accommodate the wheelchair
he now needed to get around. He loved to tinker.
Poor health-irked Ron. Being bedbound was a major
inconvenience to a man who had always cut his own
swath through the world and put food on the table for
his family. He’d never much thought about getting old or
getting cancer. He simply marched through life one day
at a time. Death happened to other people.
Yet even with cancer and old age, Ron plodded along
with a blinkered hope of life returning to normal.
“I’m not sure why I’m here” on this bed, he said near
the end of his life. “I’ve always been the rock.”
Alas, the rock was crumbling, and Ron seemed the
last to realize it.
What does it take for any of us to get in touch with our
humanity? Very often a crisis of some sort. For Ron, it was
illness and old age. For others, perhaps a business failure
or job loss, the death of a loved one, an accident, a personal
conflict or glaring mistake of our own doing.
Eventually each of us will experience that we can’t always be in control, that larger forces are always at play.
No one escapes.
Especially at such times, shoving our feelings back
down isn’t a good idea. Failing to acknowledge them is
to deny reality, to carry on like a well-dressed pedestrian
pretending he didn’t just puke on the sidewalk, continuing
his commute as if nothing were amiss.
Ignoring feelings doesn’t help in the long run. To strap
on emotional armour is to insulate against growth and
healing. Masking our miscues and limitations hinders our
ability to relate deeply with others.
Vulnerability is the key to connection, and we are hard-wired for relationship.
Many Bible characters, including King David and Jesus,
show us life can be lived openly. No masks needed.
David fought fiercely, but also prayed frequently,
danced joyfully, worshipped extravagantly, wept openly,
and put many of his vulnerable feelings into psalms meant
for public use.
Jesus confronted oppression with determined anger,
walked courageously into danger, brought wine to festive
events, and shed real tears when faced with sorrow, loss
and the prospect of suffering ahead.
Do some of these behaviours go against our idea of
manliness today? Perhaps common notions of respectability (“real men don’t cry”) and dignity (keeping cool
and competent) and authority (“If not in charge, at least
I’m in control”) are at odds with the way things really are.
Many of us cover weakness with anger and substitute
presence with busyness. But in our better moments, don’t
we sense we mature when we reveal ourselves as we really
are? Don’t we realize we actually make it easier for others
to draw closer to us?
The rock of Ron kept crumbling. After weeks of illness
and pain (he maintained his tough exterior and resisted
taking painkillers), he slowly began to adjust his think-
ing. He admitted he had reached “my quota” of years and
occasionally mentioned friends, both younger and older,
who had “already met their Waterloo.”
That was it. The inevitability of death was a battle that
must be lost – a defeat.
It was too little, too late. Other than a determined desire
to get back to his house, Ron didn’t know what to hope for.
His insides were shrinking to nothing, yet the outer crust
remained intact. Visits with family skimmed the surface
matters of a life rapidly disappearing. He died with regrets
undeclared and relationships unresolved.
Ron’s rough ending hints at what happens when we
are too proud to reveal ourselves to our loved ones. It’s a
cautionary tale about forgiveness withheld, of love unspoken and tears unshed.
The house of Ron lapsed into disrepair, without ever
truly becoming a home. FT
DouG KooP is a Winnipeg-based writer and spiritual care
provider. He’s posted more words and pictures, including
some with motorcycles, at www.dougkoop.ca.