In January 2021, this was the first finished painting I had done since my husband died 5 months earlier. Attempting to capture a cluster of emotions in one painting was daunting let alone the grief work I was doing. But this painting sprung to mind when rediscovering a black and white reference photo I was saving. I did not know how to proceed but I let the feeling of the image take over and went with it. It felt like this painting could help with my healing. I had no preconceived notions of color or intent. As I have done before, I let the painting paint me. I had finished painting the figure and the background when it came to me. I heard myself say “Vulnerability”. Vulnerability has NOT always been one of my favorite feelings. And my self-protection wall was still a little high. Until now. Everything had changed. Experiencing death of a loved one can certainly shatter your soul. It can leave you weak and sobbing wanting to crawl under a rock never to emerge. If I could have closed my eyes and died myself, I gladly would have. But that did not happen. To me, I had no choice but to strengthen and heal. Engaging prayer and meditation and gathering with caring people is how I would usually heal from trauma. But this had proven almost impossible during a global pandemic. I was sinking deeper than I’ve ever gone before. Finally, my instincts kicked in and I reached out to friends to get out of the house. They saw me at my very worst. Every wall of protection and defense had crumbled apart. They saw me unbathed, no makeup, completely unadorned. They heard my monotone chatter. They saw me cry the ugly cry and fall apart. And they listened. Somehow, I had chosen these incredible friends. They had replied to my email asking to meet. Most of them have known me as something of a leader. I had always been social, happy, passionate and gregarious. And now I could barely keep my feet from dragging as I walked and had almost died inside. The only sign of life left was a molting ball of confusion, emptiness, a feeling of being severed in half and a constant searing pain that boiled up through the numbness. Not only did these friends listen to me, treat me to lunch and take me for walks during a pandemic, they did something so much more and so very deep. They dug down inside themselves and shared with me things so painful and heartbreaking that had happened to them. This made me feel I was not alone in heartache, but it showed me something deeper. These people had felt my gapping fissure and vulnerability and then opened up themselves. Never had I known their stories at these levels. Never had I ever been so vulnerable. Never had I experienced so many moving and effecting human experiences so close together. Then, I came to understand what this new phenomenon was. Vulnerability begats vulnerability and opens doors to truth and the genuine soul. When 2 people are open in this way, a purity of the human experience is allowed to expel and the readiness to receive compassion and grace becomes free. It’s a mystical exchange and a spiritual experience. I liken this to a volcano opening up and spewing the gold of truth and allowing the cool silver rain to enter to balm and heal. New ground then forms creating a path to more truth, more compassion and more grace. Through the tragedy and suffering I had found a level of humanity so profound that I would not change a thing. I do not regret a thing. I’m here to learn and live my truth.