Those of you who read my blog with any regularity (c’mon, admit it, I know there are at least two of you!) likely would find it hard to believe that, not so long ago, I was a dyed-in-the-wool introvert who found the idea of sharing my innermost thoughts and longings with my closest of friends, let alone on social media TERRIFYING. But, it’s true, which is why it wasn’t at all surprising to me that, several years ago – moments before I was to speak to a standing room only audience at the launch of my book, “Dear Ashley . . .” – A Father’s Letters and Reflections to His Daughter on Life, Love and Hope (https://tinyurl.com/y63wrj3f) – I found myself sweating profusely in the men’s room of Books & Books (Coral Gables). What WAS surprising was HOW INCREDIBLY SMALL that men’s room is (think broom closet) and the runaway sense of awkwardness and embarrassment I felt in having to share it (and my personal crisis) with a man nearly twice my age. To make matters worse, as I shimmied along the wall trying to avoid physical contact on the way to the stall, he actually started to speak.
“Hey, aren’t you the guy who’s speaking tonight,” he said far too enthusiastically, having no doubt seen my likeness displayed in the window next to John Grisham’s latest release. “I am,” I responded, hoping against hope that would be the end of our conversation. “What’s the book and the talk about?” he inquired. “It’s about being a dad,” I said (almost in a whisper), “about my wishing I’d done better, and about our daughter, who nearly lost her life to an insidious and wildly misunderstood disease. And the talk? It’s about what I believe are the keys to realizing the desires of your heart.” He paused, as he dried his hands, breezed past everything else I’d said (almost as if I’d missed the point entirely), and asked simply, “How’s she doing now – your daughter?” “Much better, thanks,” I said, suddenly glad for the droplets of sweat that were masking my tears. He smiled, turning towards the door, “Well, it’s like my grandma always said: ‘It’s not about the goin’ down. We all gonna do that. It’s about the bounce!’ Good luck.” And with that, he was gone …
The 35 minutes between “Before I begin, I’d like you to take the pad and pencil in front of you and jot down 5 Desires of Your Heart” and “Thank you for coming tonight” is mostly a blur to me now – a vague sea of “This Is Your Life” faces, frayed nerves, frenetic heartbeats, fear of failure, and futile efforts to avoid eye contact with my daughter lest the flood gates open. But, I’ll never forget what happened as those in attendance collected their things and headed for the exit. A colleague and friend I’d known for nearly 20 years approached with hand extended and a sheen of tears in his eyes. “Thank you”, he managed as I reached to take his hand and he pressed a small folded square of paper in mine. He quickly turned and walked away and, as he did, I opened the gift he’d left behind to find 5 gut-wrenchingly personal “Desires” on one side and this note on the other: “Your willingness to share your heart has given me the courage to share these shame-filled pieces of mine for the first time. I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, but now, thanks to you, I can do it with hope.”
The weeks, months, and years since that pivotal moment in my life have only served to reinforce the power and magnetism of vulnerability, as one heart – ravaged by abuse, addiction, eating disorders, neglect, shame, guilt, loneliness, misplaced trust, etc. – after another have found their way to my actual or virtual doorstep. None has come asking to be fixed – a task well beyond my paygrade. They come instead to be seen, to be heard, to share the broken and shameful pieces of themselves without fear of judgment, to be reminded that they’re not alone, that we all fall down, that there’s someone in the world who cares, that they are no less worthy, that there’s a reason to hold on, to fight on, and for assurances that the sun will come up (and shine on them) tomorrow. My gift in return? I get the privilege to be that voice for a moment and along the way to share “Grandma’s” wisdom: It doesn’t matter why or how far you’ve fallen or what it looks (or looked) like when you hit the bottom. At one time or another (in one form or another) we’ve all been (or will be) there. It’s all about the bounce!