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I Won't Live Hunkered Down and Buttoned Up

In a magnificent poem by Stephen Dunn there are these lines:

“The world thought
I didn’t understand it,
but I did, knew that to parse
was to narrow
and to narrow was to live
one good way.
Awash with desire
I also knew a little was plenty
and more than I deserved.
And because I was guilty
long before any verdict,
my dreams unspeakable,
I hunkered down
and buttoned up,
ready to give the world,
if I had to give it anything,
no more than
a closed-mouth kiss.”

It is that closing off to the world, to people, to ourselves, that diminishes life. The world thinks we don’t understand this, but we do. We just too often don’t admit it to ourselves.

It is a scary business to live wide open, exposed, accessible, revealing our true thoughts and living by longings and knowledge, insights and beliefs and identity we own and refuse to deny or disguise.

How easy it is though, how tempting, to give in to the pressure to live “hunkered down and buttoned up,” to give the world and life “a closed-mouth kiss.”

Kissing is an art. Not everyone does it well. In order for the experience to remain, to leave a mark on your insides, to stir things within that leave you a bit off balance, awakened, inflamed, you have to be vulnerable. You have to feel things. And want things. And you have to let go. You have to be driven, not necessarily wild, but certainly free and unwound and therefore willing to depart with some of your essence. This is how connection happens. And when the kiss connects then stars move out of their stations and bring their light your way, and remedial forces climb out of the caverns of your soul and something sensational undeniably moves you and depletes you and sometimes, even often, heals you.

That is very much like living life unbuttoned and free.

It is fear, however, that keeps us from this kind of living. Fear of so many insubstantial, nightmarish, haunting things. Fear of being hurt. Fear of succeeding, and then what?  Fear of being found out, of people knowing we haven’t a clue. Fear of having too much or not enough. Fear that the old voices that taunt us are right in their shaming words and critical judgments. Fear that everything we thought was solid actually wobbles and under scrutiny very often collapses. Marriage. Relationships. Career. Finances. Faith. The whole enchilada.

Those fears are real, but like most fears, they’re often illegitimate, assumed, riddled with inaccuracies and false impressions. They come out of inarticulate anguish and muted hurts. These misunderstood emotions often close us down, drag us into oppressive self protection, and cause us to withhold so much unused self.

Sara Bareilles’s song, “Brave,” written to encourage a friend of hers to come out and own her gay life has been embraced by nearly everyone on the planet. People grabbed its message of courage and held on whether they are gay or disabled or emotionally broken or addicted or lonely or whatever other human experience any of us have that too often keeps us in terrible fears.

“You can be the outcast/Or be the backlash of somebody’s love/Or you can start speaking up/Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do/When they settle ‘neath your skin/Kept on the inside and no sunlight/Sometimes a shadow wins/But I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say/And let the words fall out honestly/I wanna see you be brave”

There is no hunkering down in that, no closed-mouth kissing. No holding back or hiding. Just a determination to be oneself and to live out of our own authenticity; to be brave enough to show that we do understand the world and its stern realities. And we understand ourselves. We will live a life that is our own. And it will be expressive and full. It will be open and loving and fearless. It will radiate with meaning that we, undaunted, choose to give it.


© 2014 Timothy Moody

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