Vulnerability Is a Scary Kind of Magic

You never know who might be out there watching and waiting with an opportunity.

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By Erin M. Kelly

Life can become a big, predictable cycle of repetition. We often get into a routine, follow it until it feels right, and tend to not stray from it. The comfort of knowing we’ll wake up and do the same things every day turns into an unspoken promise.

It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad for us. At least not when it feels good. We fall so far down the hole created by our own comfort we don’t want to dig ourselves out. There comes a moment, however, when we realize we can’t stay in the hole. We’re forced to ask ourselves, ‘Was I wrong to allow myself to get too comfortable?’

This question raced through my mind after my Nana’s passing in early 2012. I became so comfortable with my life the way it was. My column in The Altoona Mirror was gaining more readership each month it was being published as I continued to receive offers to write for small publications. It was a slow start, but I welcomed it because this was exactly what I wanted all along. More importantly, it was what I had worked for since the moment I learned how to put words together. I didn’t want anything to jeopardize that.

I pushed the thought of things changing to the side. I thought losing anyone, particularly my grandparents, was years — maybe decades away. It hadn’t occurred to me I didn’t need to be a certain age to not only witness death, but to also say goodbye, until it happened. My grandfather’s death came very unexpectedly, but I was 17 years old when he passed. I was practically a baby in an adult’s world.

I wasn’t ready to let go then, and I still didn’t want to tell myself the truth now. It became abundantly clear my Nana wasn’t going to be with my family much longer. She had suffered from so many complications following her heart surgery that a goodbye became expected, and the best thing for her.

I was left to look inside myself and admit I was being selfish. I believed the delusional lie that things last forever — at least when it came to the people whom I hold dear. In the back of my mind, however, it wasn’t a matter of delusion at all. It was more about realizing what was right in front of me.

I also wrestled with the fact I now had one grandmother left on my Dad’s side of the family. She had never been in good health, and she never truly looked passed my cerebral palsy — not nearly as much as she had convinced herself she did. At this point, I was writing enough to keep my column going and my mind in a good place. I wasn’t looking to overwhelm myself with work. I didn’t want to become lazy and complacent, either.

The immediate impact of everything going on around me radiated through my body. I started to think it was all too much. Perhaps too heavy to bear. I realized I need something to break this cycle — this sad, unwelcomed state of mind.

Before October 28, 2012, editing Dr. Warg’s memoir was the only big milestone in my career worth mentioning. I hadn’t written anything on a national level. Everything I knew about taking a risk at this point — as well as the absolute fear and hesitation that comes with it — had to do with my cerebral palsy. It wasn’t because I didn’t know any better. It was because I felt my disability was no longer the only thing that truly presented a challenge.

However, something felt different on this cold October night — a feeling to make the blood in my fingertips flow. I cautiously but rather intriguingly read though an e-mail from one Cameron Conaway.

My first thought was, ‘Who’s Cameron Conaway?’

I’d never heard of him before, nor did I know what he was about and what his story was. I’d only seen a few pictures of whom I assumed was him on Facebook. Moreover, I was confused as to why he was reaching out to me. What could I possibly have to offer a complete stranger — much less a stranger who started out as an MMA fighter and was now Social Justice Editor of The Good Men Project, an online publication I’d never heard of?

I carefully read through some more general information he included in the e-mail. I was utterly and completely blown away as I went down the list of his accolades — accomplished poet, writer — earning him the distinction of being known as The Warrior Poet around the world — and a prominent voice against human trafficking — but that still didn’t explain why he was making an effort to connect with me.

Then, as if it were a beam of light in the darkness, my eye gravitated towards this:

I read your work in The [Altoona] Mirror. I truly believe you have the potential to be one of the leading disability writers in the country, if not THE top disability writer. Would you be interested in writing a piece for the Social Justice section of The Good Men Project?

I sat in at my computer in silence for a moment. I stared at those words until my eyes stung. It was if I’d been injected with some type of undiscovered antibody or kryptonite. I knew Cameron understood and could truly grasp the one thing that’s taken the rest of the world an eternity to grasp: there’s more to me than just my disability. He didn’t see my cerebral palsy as a reason to sweep certain topics under the rug.

Cameron asked me to write more articles in the following months. I wrote each one with the intention of showing him he didn’t make the wrong decision in offering me a job. In doing so, I began to gain a new following with a new audience on a national basis. It felt liberating to continue to chip away at a very high glass ceiling, but nothing was more satisfying than knowing someone was watching — and waiting for the right moment to reach out.

Vulnerability can be scary. It puts unbelievable weight on your shoulders and makes you take steps into the unknown — but that’s where the real magic is.

This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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