There are times in life when I can’t help it. The armor goes on. It’s an ongoing process in my life, pealing away the armor even as it grows up around me. Everyone has it; the calloused skins that prevent us from going mad from the fear, pain or wear that the experience of living puts us through. I have been aware of mine from a very young age, to the point where I can feel it thickening during times of trouble and see it well enough to work at the slow process of demolishing those walls when life grows calm and safe. Of course, I never take them down completely, though I admit to having tried once or twice. It seemed like a worthy goal at the time. But once again, an unexpected lesson was my reward as I realized that the tenderer flesh of my underbelly was no match for some of the harder trials of life. Like when, as a child, I would refuse shoes and revel in my wild, tanned bare feet during summertime, growing accustomed to walking on rough pine straw, bark chips and the hot Southern beach sand only to be undone with pain and surprise crossing the blistering asphalt to get to the car.
I have learned that a certain amount of protection is necessary at times and yet, when I feel unsafe or hurt, the rise of that armor around me fills me with a type of dread. It’s thickness can shut out the gentler breezes of trust, arrest the arrows of kindness from penetrating and leave me unable to be reached or touched. My protection can become my cell, trapping me inside, leaving me alone.
And the mail is heavy. The more substantial it becomes, the greater my strain to carry it. It takes an immense amount of energy, thus draining me for other pursuits and pleasures. Even physically, my stance changes. The warrior in me comes out as I stand that much taller, more taut and aware. In the tougher times, just carrying the armor is all I can manage, sometimes distancing me from the life-giving love of others.
I see living as connecting; one soul to another, one mind to another, one body to another. It is those moments when people truly see one another and allow each other inside their walls which bring joy and worth to my life. And so I continue my work, like Sisyphus and his eternal quest uphill, dismantling the walls as they are built, judging which to keep and taking the others apart carefully, one brick at a time. Like an archeologist, carefully studying how each was manufactured, making sense of my own past. A lifetime of practice has given me devices and blueprints with which to move the barriers, but I am constantly being reminded of how much more there is to learn.
And learning seems to only truly happen in the moments when the armor is off.
- the South