“[I write] so that death finds me at all times
and on all sides exposed,
inviolable, vulnerable, alive.”
-Ursula Le Guin, “Ars Lunga”
Sometimes I want to harden my heart. I want to care less. I want to do that because it seems easier, because caring hurts sometimes, because I’m worried that, if I care, the effort of my heart won’t make a difference.
Sometimes, lying in my bed before I go to sleep, I wonder what I did with that day. (I don’t think this is a very good habit–it encourages me to see days as tasks to be completed, instead of as days to be lived). What I’m really doing in those moments is choosing a direction that I want to be moving in, and checking whether I went in that direction. The direction can be productivity: did I write today? Did I earn money? Did I produce? The direction can be knowledge: did I learn something? The direction can be connection: did I open my heart to a friend?
I like Le Guin’s direction: the intention she brings to writing. It’s possible to build fortresses of apathy of power or disassociation around our heart. It’s possible to live so we cannot be touched. But it’s death that can’t be touched. It’s death that is unchanged, unaffected, uninvolved. Living roots wrap around stones: living grass drinks in the rain, and wilts in the heat. Like Le Guin, I want to learn to live undefended. I don’t want walls between the world and me. I want to be vulnerable to this, to you. That, says Le Guin, is how we become the most alive.
Alive, vulnerable–and inviolable. I’ve often heard people say something like, “she’s so nice people take advantage of her.” Perhaps that’s not true. Perhaps real life, real vulnerability, can be hurt (that’s what the word means) but can’t be dishonored. Le Guin lets us into her heart. She invites us there. We can be rude, we can be violent, we can be kind–and none of that will lessen the honor, the life, of what she did. Even if we hurt her, we wouldn’t touch her openness, her honor. She let us in. She chose to.
The vulnerable might be hurt more often; the living can heal, and grow, and care.