I stared at a blank piece of cardboard while the bustle of downtown Santa Cruz passed by.
"If you made a sign that reveals something you normally hide, what would it say?"
This is the question a Vulnerable Rally asks. The purpose is to go past the "niceties and social graces" to "create powerful healing connections between people." This global movement was started by Gabriel Diamond and Candice Holdorf with the hopes that by writing our vulnerabilities on a sign in a public place we can all reconnect to our common humanity.
While reflecting on my laundry list of insecurities I came to terms with one that would not leave my mind. Everything in me wanted to stop, leave and not write that vulnerability down. "That vulnerability is too personal." I thought. Even now, I am hesitant to share it with you.
The rally was few in numbers which made the process challenging. If there was a mass of people I would be able to hide behind all the other signs, but instead I would be on display.
I had to decide, should I write the thing that burdens me most, or choose a low hanging fruit. I decided if I was going to really do it, I had to go all in.
I was once suicidal. I now feel grateful for everyday I am alive, but a part of me knows what my lowest low looks like and I still fear going to that depth again.
So I wrote, "I never want to be suicidal again."
As I finished writing, I looked at the cardboard sign and it looked back at me.
The letters were big, bold and glaring.
I looked up at the other people holding signs, I instantly felt a pinching feeling in my chest.
I was so embarrassed, I didn't want to show the other people at the rally let alone strangers. I observed the other participants standing there exposing their deepest insecurities to a sea of people walking by.
If it wasn't for how powerful and inspiring the other participants were, I would have left. I took a couple of steps towards them, took a deep breathe and showed them my sign.
Without a moment passing, I was hugged. In that moment my entire body shuddered and a hot flash of tears wanted to jump out of my body.
I had no idea how challenging it would be to stand there while peoples observed my sign. A vulnerability I hadn't shared with more than a handful of people was now on display to the world.
I felt so naked that no amount of clothes could ever cover me.
After reading my sign some would look away immediately trying to avoid eye contact while others would openly look at me as if I was on display at a zoo.
There was one man who looked at me and gave me the slightest nod. In that nod, I could feel that he had also gone through that pain. Of the 100s of judgements passed by others, that one moment of vulnerability I shared with that stranger made everything worth it.
The people I stood next too taught me a lot. They were so strong while being so vulnerable. By openly talking about the most painful parts of ourselves, we were able to begin to heal them.
As we put our signs down, I felt a weight lifted. Not just because the unceasing anxiety ended, but I felt the burden I had been silently holding onto had been released from my chest.
We ended with a group hug and reflected on our experiences. I realized that whether I am at the park or in the grocery store, I always carry some vulnerability with me. To have to look my own insecurities dead in the eyes with what felt like the world watching, I was able to find a strength in me I didn't know existed.
When all was done my friend and I linked arms and skipped down the street. We felt fearless, stronger than ever, and while all the vulnerabilities and insecurities we might have were still there, to us -- they were now no heavier than a piece of cardboard.
This was a once in a lifetime experience, I recommend everyone give it a try. For information on how to host your own Vulnerable Rally please click here