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As Weak

In the afterglow of Hutchmoot 2018’s dizzying cascade of several dozens of wonderful and meaningful conversations, I can no longer remember who requested copies of the poem I read during Rebecca Reynolds’ and my tag team session on “the holy, hidden potential of human weakness.”

Hence the posting of it here. Beyond that fulfillment of forgotten verbal obligations, though—because we as a community tend to skew heavily on the introvert scale and also because I suspect that even the beloved extroverts among us struggle with the same foundational insecurities—I would like to offer the piece to the wider Rabbit Room community.

It’s a poem I wrote some sixty hours before my Hutchmoot session. At the time I was harried and discouraged in my attempts to pare a 12,000 word outline down to a manageable 4,000 words. (Spoiler Alert: I failed.) Scanning my eighteen pages of ten-point font notes, I felt a vague and growing unease. Trying to divine my own disquiet I realized, “Okay, these notes do contain some interesting and valuable observations, but I’m mostly only offering abstract ideas about weakness. Is there some way to move this presentation beyond the abstract such that it might actually give someone something to hang onto?”

Yes, I could have just rested in the knowledge that when Rebecca Reynolds began her portion of the session everyone in the room would immediately feel connected and welcomed into that warm, encouraging aura she magically projects in a roughly forty-foot radius around her person. But it seemed irresponsible on my part to ask attendees to suffer through the first half of the session without any rungs yet affixed to the ladder we were asking them to climb.

I couldn’t see that I was offering—in my notes as they then were—any point of connection that might “incarnate” these important ideas and make them more immediate than abstract. As I was stewing on the matter I did what any of us do when faced with frustration. I checked Facebook.

And there I happened to read Helena Sorensen’s post asking the Rabbit Room community whether they were more discouraged or inspired by personal tales of struggles and failures. I skimmed the response thread and I was like: Oh. Yeah. That. Hmm.

So I just sat for a few minutes, long enough for all the fears and insecurities swirling chaotically just outside the edges of my vision to catch up to me and begin to announce themselves. And then I started typing, trying to document that sideshow parade of insecurities as they marched up the main street of my imagination.

Because the truth is, being asked to speak in front of a group of well-read, thoughtful, sensitive people—who have gathered because they think I might have something to say that’s worth their time to hear—pushes the buttons for almost every one of the fifty-eight floors accessed by my elevator of paralyzing insecurities.

Writing this mostly stream-of-consciousness poem was beneficial though, as the process of driving those insecurities into the open and naming them had a settling effect that allowed me afterward to move forward with more focus in the preparation process. (I didn’t shave the notes down to 4,000 words, but I did cut them to about 6,500. The rest of the editing had to happen at the podium. Apologies to those present, for any rather abrupt transitions.) Based on feedback from several of the gracious attendees, I think the poem did also do some valuable work to bridge that gap between the abstract idea and the personal experience.

If there’s a practical takeaway here for content creators, it might be that the sense of pressure and stress we feel in such moments of preparation and editing might actually be a friendly voice, warning us that we’re trying to position ourselves as an expert on a particular topic, when what might best serve community is not so much a “voice of authority” speaking from above, but the voice of a fellow pilgrim speaking to us just from the bottom of the next gulley, or from the far bank of the ravine we’re only just now descending into.



Shadows circle like crows over my shoulder, and as I get older I feel those wingbeats colder and I can give them names; names that escaped me in my younger days:

Fear of failure. Fear of loss. Fear for my children. Fear that the cost of ever finishing another book, or story or poem is more than I can pay.

Fear that life from here will fray, growing harder and more confusing. Fear that what’s to come is mostly losing what I’ve had and learning what it means to hurt and how to come to terms with everything I cannot save.

Fear that the sometimes tremor in my hand which began about a year ago as I wrote the close- ing pieces for a book of liturgies means that something really might be wrong with me.

Fear of finding out that something might be wrong with me. Fear of letting people see what might be wrong with me. Fear that somehow God is done with me; fear that in the years to come my lot will be that of a sailor lost in aimless seas.

Fear that all my old regrets might finally catch up to me.

Fear that I stand here in front of you presumptively with nothing to say; that my meagre offerings will not be met by anything greater than the voices in my own head and I will be left to dangle disconnected from anything but the cringe-inducing echoes of things I’ll wish I’d never said…

So add to my growing, crowing, list of dread: fear of exposure, fear of shame. Fear of being named and criticized. Fear of how I look in anybody’s eyes, including yours,

including mine.

Fear of endlessly learning the same lessons I already learned as a kid when I was burned so many times by wanting so much to fit in that it hurt. It hurt, and then overextending my hopes again and feeling those rope burns on the skin of my palms as the thing I so yearned for was yanked out of my grasping hands.

Fear of what I do not understand: I do not understand what to say, or how to stand, or what in creation I’m ever supposed to do in public with my hands, or how to not come off as too absurd, so add fear of being seen as awkward, which is to say fear of being seen as I am because I am awkward.

(I am as awkward in my attempts to fit in or be loved as the wobble of a wooden-legged duck pursued through a mile of mud by a redneck kid in a pickup truck.)

Fear of inadequacy. Fear of trying to just relate because the basic mechanics of human interaction was a language I came to too late and somehow failed to learn to imitate believably. And I never wanted to be the fool. I never wanted to be uncool,

but I was always uncool. On my death certificate the coroner will doubtless rule: Cause of death: He was so, so very terminally uncool. And when my daughters come to identify my body, they will shake their heads and say, “We thought he would eventually outgrow this awkward stage. How could we know he would only wax more uncool with age? His sucking need for affirmations he could not let himself receive was so pathetic. Let us hope, oh, let us hope, it’s not genetic.”

So diagnose my clumsy self protection as a symptom of this constant fear of rejection, paralyzed by possibilities and presuppositions of pending hostilities that might at any time be unmasked and directed at me.

And in that crown of utter instability set these stones of other fears and ring them round: Fear that anytime I speak or do not speak or cross the street or wait too long to cross the street or sit across from someone else and lift my fork to eat,

I’m being judged, and run the risk of being seen as I am which is to say—

of being seen as weak.

—©2018 Douglas Kaine McKelvey


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