Sunday, November 1, 2015

Of Armor and Amulets

For Timothy, who has me thinking about all of these things

Most days, my hands roam over my jewelry box, seeking the pieces I am drawn to for the interaction of energy and effect. My dad's belt and buckle, my grandmother's amethyst ring, my daughter's handmade bracelet: I used to think of dressing this way as my armor, a way to steel myself to meet something rough.

I remember so clearly the act of dressing for court, the last act of a painful and gut-wrenching divorce that dumped me out onto those hard wooden benches raw and bruised. That day, I dressed in my typical black, fortified by my grandmother's gold bracelet on my wrist, my father's chain a protective amulet underneath. My lawyer leaned over to whisper that my makeup was flawless. It was all intentional, every bit, a way to end things with as much care and attention to how I'd begun.

But today, sitting in church on All-Soul's day, I realize these pieces I wear are less armor than talismans, ways for me to feel connection and strength from those I love. A symbol of authenticity from a dear friend at my neck reminds me everyday to have courage to be true not only to myself, but to all of those I come into contact with, my grandmother's amethyst reminds me of her gentle nature, of her kindness, her empathy, her compassion.

I've been thinking about kindness and compassion a lot lately, about the fragility of openness and intimacy, and the difference between intimacy and vulnerability and that warm space in between. A couple of months ago, my lovely therapist Marilyn and I were talking about what it feels like to be open to giving of yourself, only to be hurt in the process. "You don't get to have it both ways, Fran," she admonished me. "You can either be free with the deep intimacy that you are able to offer people --which is one of the greatest gifts you have--but you can't be hurt when people take what they need and go. You either offer yourself freely, without expectation, or you build expectation in and limit who you share yourself with. You can't have it both ways." Her words have struck with me, playing over and back in my mind in the past few days as I'm pondering that blending of intimacy and vulnerability that sits atop my personal foundation of authenticity, courage and self-worth that are inked upon my spirit.

It's too easy to wall off, close the vault and shell up, climb back in a the first sign of ouch. But that serves nobody and it certainly doesn't serve my own purpose as the person I am in the world. Most of us are messy, most of us are feeling around in the dark for a light switch, most of us are feeling like we are failing at something important in our lives. So every day we armor up and go out into the world, not sharing our deepest gifts with others in ways that would help to serve and heal not only ourselves, but also those that are treading water just the same.

What if, instead, we turned to our talismans, to our guides, to hold precious things close to us to remind us of who we are, to lean against each other when we stumble in the present, to live it less afraid and more honestly and with truth and trust. There is a vast difference between being defensive and being fortified, between being armored and being available, between keeping ourselves from the real likelihood of disappointment and instead learning to navigate when situations present us with choices on how to meet things head on, to talk them through, to care, to forgive and to heal. And to be so thankful for the choice.