Last week, I heard a quote by Ernest Hemingway that deeply resonated with me:
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”
I’ve been thinking about that quote ever since. Such timely words for me now. As I write this post, I am packing for an amazing and much-anticipated trip to Monaco and Italy with my sister. Yet, I am feeling anxious — very, very anxious. As I breathe and I am present with my anxiety, I consider Hemingway’s quote: How did those places in ourselves become broken in the first place? Why do they leave us feeling at first so vulnerable? How, then, does strength come from this state?
One might think that being anxious before a trip of a lifetime like this doesn’t make sense at all. And yet, for me, it does. While I am grateful, eager and excited for the days ahead — to see and experience the wonders of Monaco, Rome, Florence and Milan — I also know that travel has not always been kind to me.
In October 1989, I was in San Francisco on a business trip when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck. It was, as you can imagine, a terrifying experience. Yet, what was even more unnerving were the aftershocks, without a way to escape them. The SFO airport was closed. There was no getting out of this ground-shaking situation.
On September 11, 2001, while the world was coming apart at the seams, I was en-route with a co-worker to Bangkok to lead a week-long training class for the Asia team at Microsoft. Our pilot did not share what had happened while we were in the air. So, when we landed and hailed a taxi, we were confused by our driver’s crazy ramblings about the World Trade Center buildings falling and the Pentagon being attacked. We were incredulous. “Are you talking about a movie that you saw?” we asked. It was only when we were finally in our hotel room, watching the news, that we understood what had happened –utter tragedy and brokenness. What has happened to our sense of safety? Planes were grounded. How long would this last? When would I be able to go home?
On more than one business trip, when I called home to talk with my husband, who struggled with depression that seemed to worsen when I was away, the phone went unanswered. I called again and again and again. No responses to emails or texts. Was Randy OK? What was happening? Once again, I found myself in the now-familiar place of complete vulnerability.
The origin of the world, vulnerable, is from the Latin word vulnerabilis, which means “to wound.” Being vulnerable, then, is the ability for one to be wounded. Athletes know that the building of muscle strength comes first through the stresses that are put upon them. As the body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through its cellular process, muscle fibers fuse together to form new protein strands, resulting in an increased muscle thickness and growth. It is in the breaking-down and breaking-open process that a state of strength is ultimately created.
In the choice of living life fully, with our hearts open rather than shut, we risk being wounded … or not. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being wounded and broken. And yet, it was from this very perspective that he chronicled God’s reassuring words to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So it is for all of us.
It has been said that nothing that is worth anything comes without risk. And so, on this day before travel; with the juxtaposing feelings of both excitement and anxiety, I choose to share my vulnerability. Whether this trip is easy and delightful; whether hassles or delays will be part of it; whether something very difficult happens — or all of the above — I know by my own experience that in my willingness to enter this vulnerable place called life, strength is created before I even get on the plane.
Bon voyage! It’s gonna be a great trip!