For more than a decade I would open the first day of school with a Murphy version of a personality test. As the students are filling out information cards on the first day, I would ask them to choose between the following four powers: invisibility, flight, invulnerability and flexibility. For those with an eye for all things “geek” I don’t have to explain that each power represents a member of Marvel Comics Fantastic Four.
I started this back in the late 90’s while I was working on my Masters degree in Education. I wanted something that linked passions of mine and could actually be applicable. After more than 10 years of data there are some interesting trends. Three of the four powers get chosen the most and one power is split between male and female students.
The girls tended to choose either invisibility or flight as their power choices. When asked to explain, most spoke about using either power as a form of escape. The boys trended with flight also or invulnerability. Many explained how they would either like to escape or simply not be hurt. The girls always ask about invulnerability. They want to know is it invulnerability from physical and emotional pain. When I inquire whether it would make a difference most will tell me “yes” because they would want to be immune to both.
Almost no one chooses flexibility. First I explain the power and still very few choose it. I’ve always felt that out of the four, flexibility is the power to deal with a situation while the others are ways to avoid. If I’m right on that hypothesis, then it would make sense that most teens would choose to avoid rather than adapt.
Perhaps that statement could be true not just for teens but for all people. When as a people are we taught the power of vulnerability? To be vulnerable you need to feel safe and for many that would safety would begin at home. As a young man growing up, vulnerability is something you are taught not to do. You need to be tough, stuff your feelings down and pretend that things don’t bother you. This is the example my father taught me as a child. Stuff it down till it either erupts at inappropriate times (Thanksgiving dinner) or you become a weepy mess when trying to tell people about your family.
I don’t blame my father his example, my grandfather, was no better. He was a giant of a man, who could easily palm my head (not just my childhood head, but the noggin I have today). I remember running up to him to give him a hug. I was probably 7 or 8 years old. He placed that giant meat paw in front of me and held me at a distance. “A man shakes hands.” He said looking down at me from his greater than 6′ frame. So I shook his hand from that day on.
The next lessons of vulnerability come from friends and lovers. We share secrets and we trust those who are not our family with bits of ourselves. In hopes that we will fell accepted for the person that we are or that we hope to become.
I remember sitting with Beth in my car outside our friend Sue’s house. We had been out and swung by Sue’s to watch some of the hockey playoffs with her. Sue is quite the fanatic about hockey. Not that Beth and I cared, but Beth suggested it (I think) and I wanted to be wherever she was. We were not dating at this time–simply friends who always seemed to reconnect. Though I had always loved her, I was never strong enough to tell her how I felt. Until that night. That night in Red Rose Gate, I told her that I loved her; that I had always loved her. I remember feeling so scared at the thought of being rejected, but I was emboldened by her response that she loved me too. I had never felt better. Just thinking about it now makes me smile. It’s amazing how taking that risk changed my life forever.
Instances of vulnerability are a rarity and they pop up at the strangest times. You could be sitting in a car in Levittown or going through boxes of old coimcs and nostalgia. You never know what might bring it on, but appreciate it when it does come. Vulnerability is a gift and it is a power that I am striving to master.
One more thing about my grandfather. When he was dying, Beth and I flew to Florida to be with my father and his brothers and sister–to say goodbye. The day he died, I was the only one in the room. I had been reading to him. As he passed I held his hand. I didn’t shake it, I held it with two of mine. Because that’s what men do.