Pleased on Christmas Day to have a thought-provoking essay from guest writer, Isabella Clarke.
Weak or vulnerable?
Not the same thing, are they?
There’s a pejorative veneer to the word ‘weak’, which ‘vulnerable’ lacks. Weakness suggests a failure, lack, absence; whereas vulnerability might imply the presence instead of sensitivity… it’s almost a virtue.
I think of this because my self-definition tends to be ‘weak’ while friends describe me as ‘stronger than I know but vulnerable’ – or something similar. Now, they would say that, wouldn’t they? I mean, it’d be rather mean to join me in coruscating* criticism, so they’d choose language that confers more kindness than blame. Thus, I am not inclined to put myself entirely in the ‘vulnerable but not weak’ category.
What I am inclined to do is to think about the two concepts some more.
It struck me that these qualities are central to the human drama. There is no tragedy, comedy or romance without one or the other – probably both. Perfectly strong and secure beings offer little scope for narrative flux.
But which of the two is paramount might change the nature of the story.
Take a look at Shakespeare’s Tragedies. I was taught that tragedy was all about a fall from grace, about hubris and pride. Looking at them through this lens, though, I see them as about weakness.
Consider Hamlet: his procrastination, indecisiveness and despair. Then, Othello’s jealousy – he can’t handle the force of his emotions. Macbeth kills through ambition, in part, but also because he can’t maintain the strength of his loyalty in the face of his wife’s onslaught. Lear fails to recognise love. Actually, all of them fail in terms of love: Macbeth’s love for his King; Othello’s for Desdemona – he has failed too to accept hers for him. Hamlet has no understanding for his mother’s love for Claudius – but more importantly, perhaps, he betrays his love for Ophelia. As well as his own better self. In fact, there’s the sense that through love all four could, perhaps, have found their better selves. That is the core weakness. They fail in love.
In contrast, the daughters of the Late Plays fall in love. All four young women are vulnerable – but not weak. They maintain an integrity and through that integrity find love – and it is through love that all the chaos of their shipwrecked and storm-tossed past is smoothed, soothed and healed. The fathers are redeemed by their daughters. In the Late Plays, Cordelia could rescue Lear. She is a shadow form of what was to come: the tragic variant.
Innogen, Marina, Miranda and Perdita herald a future freed from the miseries wrought by weaknesses failures. They promise peace through their ability to accept vulnerability and to accept love.
The world, this tragic world, turns comic or romantic through the alchemy of love.
Brings me in mind of a rainbow, turning bleakness into beauty.
Love. It’s what I have the horses for, I guess… I knew I needed to have beings to love, and to love in that desperate, wholehearted, soulful way that can make other humans, when not paramours, embarrassed.
And love is my great vulnerability: my need for it, my desire for it. My strength too – in that I can inspire it.
As for weakness… so, a failure of love… perhaps the weakness is my hesitation in believing fully in its power? Its power to transform. I see the bleakness, and sometimes I fail to see the rainbow. Or I regard it as only a mirage, as an inconceivable, unbelievable, purely magical miracle.
But love is not a chimera. It is as real as concrete. The way we manifest it is twofold: by having the vulnerability to be open to its life-changing force and by overcoming our weakness, our fear of that same terrifying potency.
*Not an appropriate use of this word, which actually means sparkling, but I liked it. So there.
Isabella Clarke is a well-connected British sports journalist whose voice is well known to soccer fans around the world. Currently, she writes and voices programs about England’s Premier League. She reported on the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and 2014, from South Africa and Brazil respectively. Her work was broadcast in the UK and across the world in English speaking nations.
So much for the professional CV. On a personal level, Isabella was diagnosed with a bipolar condition in her twenties – more recently, that diagnosis was changed to Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.
In 2012, Isabella suffered a life-threatening accident when she was kicked in the face by a terrified horse and lay in an induced coma for a week. When she woke up, she couldn’t speak, move or even think. For an active woman, a broadcaster and a reader, this was hell. During the London Olympics – when she was meant to be working – she was bed-bound with her jaw wired shut and half her teeth missing.
Yet Isabella made it back to work in four months. And, despite the serious nature of her condition, she leads a full life – flourishing through her deep passion for life, learning and literature as well as yoga, meditation and plenty o time with friends – both human and non human.
She is an Emotional Clearing facilitator, having trained with John Ruskan. Her blog, The Spoken Horse, muses eclectically on life, psychology, emotion, literature, nature, love, beauty and the full glory of what it is to be human. Isabella has also written a book of short stories, Colours and Shades, which is available on Amazon, and is currently working on a self help book, Radiance: how equanimity can bring balance and beauty to your life.
Her life is an example of resilience. Her journey has been finding balance. Her gift is the discovery of radiance. Her dream is for her new book is to help others as the message contained in its pages has already helped her.