Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tattoos & Unconditional Love

Vintage Embroidery Motif Tattoo
“I recalled a morning years ago in a boxy church in Tujunga, the fluorescent lights, chipped folding chairs. Starr charmed as a snake while Reverend Thomas explained damnation. The damned could be saved, he said, anytime. But they refused to give up their sins. Though they suffered endlessly, they wouldn’t give them up, even for salvation, perfect divine love. I hadn’t understood at the time. If sinners were so unhappy, whey would they prefer their suffering? But now I knew why. Without my wounds, who was I? My scars were my face, my past was my life. It wasn’t like I didn’t know where all this remembering got you, all that hunger for beauty and astonishing cruelty and ever-present loss…I had already seen more of the world, its beauty and misery and sheer surprise, than they could hope or fear to perceive. But I knew one more thing. That people who denied who they were or where they had been were in the greatest danger. They were blind sleepwalkers on tightropes, fingers scoring thin air. So I let them go, got up and walked away, knowing I’d given up something I could never get back. Not Ann and Bill Greenway, but some illusion that I’d had, that I could be saved, start again.”
(Fitch, p. 306)

I've been thinking a lot about who I am. Like...really, who am I? The answer to that somehow lies in the life I've lived so far, the things I've seen, the things I've heard and read, the places I've been and the people I've loved and been loved by. All of that is in me.

Like Astrid in the passage above, I say, “Without my wounds, who was I? My scars were my face, my past was my life.” Somehow this is very connected to my altered vision of God, to the wall I have always seemed to run up against. I used to intellectually say that I am sorry for my sin. Yet somewhere inside of me, I didn't feel sorry. Isn't it those things, as well, that make me who I am?

Somewhere inside of me, I feel the longing to live in a tribe where women gather and paint on their bodies the stories of the pain, the anguish, the joys, the surprises and the beauty of their lives. I know the feeling I would have as I looked at my friends’ and sisters’ bodies, the pleasure and the pain they have known blending together, making something so beautiful tears would fill my eyes.

I would wear my own stories proudly, my regret and my gladness mixing inside, just as the stories on my body ran into one another, making a new, more beautiful story than if one had happened and not the other. No one would know where one story and one emotion left off and where others began. I would be a beautiful tapestry and I would not be ashamed.

I would paint honestly and clearly the truth of my life and I would read the truth of the others’ lives that they painted. I would know myself. I would know them. They would know me. We would know one another. And we would love one another for telling the truth, for being alive. We would call what we saw, the result of the bad and the good in our lives, beautiful, for that’s what it would be.

At twilight all of us women would go and meet all of the men in one central place. The men would have painted their stories on themselves, as well, and there would be a palpable excitement about seeing one another.

We would sing. We would read one another’s stories. We would laugh and cry together. And then we would dance.

I would get up and walk toward him. His eyes would be soft and gentle, filled with a loving look and lit by the fire. Our hands would touch and I would lean against him. Our stories would blend together as we danced to the music in the firelight.

“Cheryl,” he would whisper, love in his voice, as I looked up at him.

“You are wholly beautiful, my love,” he would tell me tenderly and I would know what he meant.

It would mean that he had read all the stories, that he saw it all, that he knew me. That he looked at not just the story on my arm or my left thigh, above my right eyes or across my belly. I would know he had looked at the whole picture, that he saw all of me…the truth of me.

And seeing all that, he would think I was beautiful and love me. Not in spite of the “bad” parts, not because of how much better I became after the bad parts. Not because he avoided looking at some parts or tricked his mind into not feeling anything when he saw them.

Instead, he would love me because of the whole of who I was. Because of everything and because of the beautiful design that no one else wore. Because of every part of me, each bit a result of my life, good and bad. I would be loved unconditionally.


Lori York said...

I am teary-eyed, Cheryl. You have such a gift!

Anonymous said...

You know Cheryl someone does love you like that.

Cheryl Ensom said...

I'm not a fan of anonymous comments.

sylvia said...

Simply Beautiful Cheryl. I miss hearing Tennessee when I read your blog.

Cheryl Ensom said...

Me, too! I was worried my playlist was irritating people, though, so I took it off. Maybe I need to put it back....
Hope you're doing well, Sylvia. I'm going to hold you in my thoughts this morning, ok?

sylvia said...

Thank you Cheryl. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts. My mother, who was 90 years old, died on Wednesday. She fell and broke her hip and a rib on Friday. She had surgery on Sunday but she never opened her eyes after they started her on the pain meds. The only thing she acknowledged during the 5 day period was the pain. I don't know if you have every watched someone you love suffer but it was unbearable.
I ordered the book you recommended from Amazon. I am looking forward to reading it.

Please continue to write your beautiful blogs.

Cheryl Ensom said...

Dear, dear Sylvia...I am sorry. I have watched someone I love die in pain and it is truly horrible. Something is just heinously wrong with people spending their last moments alive in pain. You are a wonderful person; your mother was blessed to have such a beautiful, loving daughter to care for her until the end. I am so proud of you. I am going through some terrible emotional pain of my own so I think I understand just a corner of how you feel. I'm going to visually hold you, Sylvia, whenever I think of you. If you read my garden post a ways back on this blog, you know there is a place I go in my mind/heart that is a beautiful garden with a bench in the center where I can rest and where I can see things as they are. Know that I'm taking you by the hand, leading you over to my bench, letting you lay your head down, listening to whatever you have to say, wiping your tears and holding you tight. Your mother would do the same thing if she could. I love you. And I mean that. Please write me if you want or even call me...

sylvia said...

Thank you Cheryl for being such a loving, compasionate person. I can truly feel it. Your special place sounds perfect. I'll try to feel it in my mind/heart. I go for long walks trying to understand everything that has happened in the past year and a half. Sometimes I feel like just walking and never stopping. I guess I am just so angry with God right now about the pain/suffering question that has gone on for ever. Maybe one day I will figure it out or at least come to peace with it. I love you also. Sylvia

Cheryl Ensom said...

Hold this very it's not "it." It's just a tool and a very handy one. Buddhism says pain is part of being human; suffering is when we don't see things as they really are. So basically this is the same principle as "And the truth will set you free."

My wounded self that sits on that bench suffers and doesn't understand. Often I can orient myself as the wounded self and then "pull back" and be a sort of mother to the wounded self. From that vantage point I can see the way things really are and with that information I can comfort my wounded self, help it resolve inner conflict or even outer conflict. That "pulled back" self I call my Real Self. She is not me transformed by Christianity. She is the real me that was always inside, like a caterpillar inside a chrysalis.

Not sure if any of this is helpful. Again, hold it loosely. They are just tools.

Anonymous said...

this is beautiful!! :)

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