The image is familiar, a sensation really, of cowering at the approach of antagonists. The faces are not constant, but the sensation has become consistent. As I settle into a meditative place at my first Quaker Meeting, I admit to being annoyed by the return of the familiar scene. Yet feeling quieted by the space in which I find myself, I allow the image to unfold as it would. Now in a place of relative emotional safety, I find myself almost magically erecting a circle of trees around myself, at a generous distance, that keeps unwanted intruders at bay. Visually I have created a giant hoolah hoop around me and it feels truly utterly absolutely safe.
Except that as I sit with the image of safety, I realize that I am alone in my circle.
Keeping people at bay is one antidote for the drama of interpersonal dynamics, but one that precludes connection. While preferable to doing combat, I realize that though this image of a foliage barrier is compelling, ultimately it cannot deliver healthy relationships.
Comforted by the safety of the image in the quiet of the Sunday Meeting space, another image began to form in my mind’s eye. This image was one of a more athletic me with a kind of permeable armor, dancing lithely through the field. Truth be told, athletic and I do not fit in the same sentence, let alone the added images of lithe dance and flexible armor. All the more I am struck by the gift of the scene coming from a place not my own. I find myself wondering if it is possible to develop a lightness of step and protection of self such as to allow safe movement in a world of chaos. Clearly the recent months in the church that I’ve called home have shown that such interpersonal strength is not something I yet possess, but inasmuch as the two images suggest a choice between isolation and healthy inclusion I am compelled to consider the invitation of a new image.
Later in the day in the midst of questions from friends about next steps, I found myself tongue tied and unsure, seeking the calm promise of the protected perimeter. But I remember the sense of empowerment felt in the brief dance amongst the throng. It was a dance of delight and one that I would like to learn.
In the quiet of my sleeping world last night, I was visited by the shy child. She was being interviewed in a setting of honor and publicly confessing, to the surprise of the crowd, her severe shyness. The gathered room was respectful of her disclosure and in naming it so publicly she felt the power of shame begin to dissipate. As I now sip coffee with the remembrance of her embrace, I am aware that I long to feel the coalescing of the appreciation and honest vulnerability, to be simultaneously known and loved.
The perimeter of the trees has an appeal but will never provide this encounter. To experience the full human interaction for which I was created, I must be willing to touch and be touched. Such interaction inevitable means to bleed and heal, to wear scars alongside the bud, to spend time on the ground in sorrow and to rise with new life and dance. The lithe dancer is one who practices and bears bruises, the one with permeable armor is one with scars.
This has been a year of losses and my heart is heavy as I bear witness to it’s close. The snow gently falls and so too the tears. But underneath the snow, Bette Midler promised a rose. And I choose to believe.