When my father was dying I was a fifteen year old. A teenager. You probably know them. Such vulnerable, forming, sometimes frightful, angsty, but fascinating and beautiful creatures. We were outside, at the washing line, presumably one of us was hanging out washing…it may be that it was meant to be me and I wasn’t. There was an exchange about selfishness.
It really impacted on me that he thought I was selfish and that I had disappointed him. I thought I had been trying and that this was unfair just to add insult. He was my rock. The most important person in my world, the one whose opinion and respect I most cherished. I was too young and turbulent to appreciate what was going on for him and how this might have contributed to our sharp, and for me, sword edged spar. He had lost his wife only months before, he was preparing to leave eight children. And I probably was selfish.
I think I allowed that exchange to plant a seed that was to flourish in later years as I subconsciously fought the label of selfish and tried to win his respect back through a fierce devotion to work that made a difference for people. This label was like an Achilles heel that it took me a long time to identify and love back to life as a real and malleable part of myself.
I spent time on Tuesday going through some boxes of work stuff from my last job. I had been avoiding it because I knew it would bring up the disappointment of it ending before we could deliver some silver bullets and honour the work and engagement of a lot of people, and there is some sadness at missing the wonderful network of people who were crafting those bullets with me. But once begun it became a cathartic experience that included me challenging myself on any notions of blame or shame because we had been unable to complete the work. It kind of gave me some motivation to open up, recognise, release and I remained that way as I headed off for a run in the ocean pool.
As I ran I paid attention to the sense of inertia I had been feeling. I made a deliberate attempt to try and “feel” what was dragging me back. I harkened back to that long ago event under the washing line, about how it is part of what made me vulnerable, how it was a part of my Achilles heel, about how my vulnerability led to barriers which at times were breached with damaging consequences and lingering shame. I spent some time with that teenager and I thought a lot about my dad and extended them both forgiveness. I thought about how I had feared my parents appearing to me as ghosts after I moved into their bedroom and how I had actively asked that they didn’t! And about how my father had appeared to me in dreams for a period of time, dreams that I now understood were conveying that he was present and watching and proud.
But there was more surfacing so as I kept running I wanted to give some shape to the inner feelings that played out physically and emotionally for me. I started to feel like this man I had dated had his arms around me. Across my shoulders and around my neck. So that as I ran in the water I dragged not only my own body weight but his also. It was all churning, through water and through me.
I wondered why he was hanging on to me. This is quite the opposite of what he had actually done. I made myself stay with the sensations and the questioning. To remember the things that had happened and how they made me feel, with honesty and no flinching away. I felt stupid and ashamed and kind of crazy – because one of the things he had said to me is that “you have to treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen”. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t mean to him. I couldn’t understand why it was a requirement that I be mean. And for some reason it led to me really questioning whether I was an okay person, whether there’s something wrong with me that I try not to judge, that I accept and that I forgive. Like accepting the humanness of another person is wrong. That this was a fundamental flaw in me that meant I was broken and undesirable. I find myself flushing as I write this and I wonder if it’s because I still wonder if he was right or because I’m embarrassed that I even entertained the idea. It feels like shame painted on my cheeks in heat and I don’t know what to do about that but wear it for now.
So I stayed with these feelings as I kept running in the dark. Let the tears come when they did, grinned too, and sometimes sought a sense of being grounded by focusing on feeling my legs and feet carry me forward. Of course I had a bit of an epiphany. If you stay with something long enough you’ll have some kind of ideas or understanding or conversation start to take you into the confidence of what it is you are exploring. I tried to discover the rationale for why I reacted the way I did, why I let these events define a part of me and why I had the outcome of these events still dragging along behind me.
Perhaps the biggest realisation was that very little of the relationship I’d had with this man had been about me or even us. That was hard to accept because I don’t think he’s an evil or even a mean man. He’s just human. And so am I. So why all this time later this realisation? I think it’s because it means I feel that I was very naive and foolish and it makes me feel vulnerable. And I didn’t entirely know how to reconcile having cared about him and how to accept that his behaviour was less than honourable. I think I have unresolved shame that I don’t quite understand yet, but there is some liberation just in knowing this.
I was resolved to break the lock of his hands around my body. I had accepted a long time ago that he was gone, so what remained was well overdue to be released. I decided to try and imagine the wound that had been created and here’s how that played out…
So my Achilles heel was like an outcrop of my heart. Sometimes in vulnerability it was like a scab that had split. It provided a fissure. Into this fissure, without deliberateness, with clumsiness and maybe even with my hands helping to provide force, he had thrust a crow bar. It came down through my head, where I had spent too much time thinking about it instead of feeling. It went between my ribs and through the fissure on my heart. It split my chest and hewed open my upper torso before passing through my womb and lodging in my right leg, right down to the ankle. Cleave.
I believe in resilience. I believe in love as a means of acceptance and regeneration. I was sure I could find some kind of reconciliation, between me then and now, what happened and what I thought and what I think now about relationship. I sought to enact my own sacrament for healing, I drew on wisdom and adopted a sagacious lens for a fresh look, I reached for spiritual grace and I reached for my authentic self.
I stood in the water, waist deep, catching my breath from the running, gasping at the wound I could now see. I had carried it for some time. It had healed in its way. Split asunder the halves of my torso grew a new skin and remained rocked open. The crowbar stayed lodged. No wonder walking through life had been a bit clumsy at times.
I had been using the mantra “release” as I ran as a deliberate strategy to help me let go of what I had over time been suppressing and had invited to surface as I focused on transformation. I hadn’t realised how great a shard of history and hurt was embedded in me. I resolved to reshape this very evening, now that I realised I was impaled I didn’t want to be that way anymore.
I decided to use my imagination and remove the crowbar. I thought of the person I trust most implicitly. They stood with me hip deep in the water and placed their feet by mine for support. Together we wrapped our hands about the metal and eyes locked we started to slowly shift it. Up out of my leg, instant relief, careful not to strike the hip, not to knock the heart too hard, to be clean in leaving the head, right through to the tapered end point rising up and out. He closed over the wounds on the front of my body with his hands, and then reached around to my back. A single tear tracked down my face.
Love was then poured into the space from above my head and my companion took from his chest a graft of skin and sewed it over the space where my scalp had been open.
An amazing experience of my making and made possible by the encouragement and modeled bravery of the person I chose to include.
It’s not really about judging myself or other people that form part of my story. I accept that I was instrumental in the damage, and I’m really happy I’m instrumental in my own healing. It’s about the fact that life happens in a context, and yes sometimes we need to do some personal work on that context. It’s that sometimes we’re doing our best, sometimes things happen, sometimes we do things that aren’t so kind. Sometimes we are wounded. What gives to us so much more than judgement is forgiveness and compassion, and where it makes sense just letting go.
That crowbar moment, being filled with love, having another’s skin stitched to mine, that was all compassion and a single tear can say I see you, I’ll see you.