In Which I am Slowly Transformed into a Superhero ~ Armouring & the Whole Problem of Being Vulnerable.
Life has been interesting this year. That’s putting it mildly, really. I’ve begun my transformation into a superhero. I’m not sure when my special powers are arriving but I’m getting the outfit, bit by bit.
If you ever watched that wonderful series Xena Warrior Princess (Yes, I know how ridiculous and silly a lot of it was) then you may recall that the opening credits feature snippets of Xena putting on and adjusting her armour, starting with her warrior boots, her wrist braces and so on, before showing her using various of her weapons and fighting techniques. With modifications, that’s me these days. One of my greatest regrets in life was deciding I couldn’t afford the leather body armour I tried on once at a Re-Enactors Fair some years back. One day I will go back and get it.
I’ve now got much of my kit: wrist braces, inserts for shoes to ease problems with gait that in turn were causing hip and knee problems, various splints for fingers, and soon I will also get elbow and knee supports. As I go on, what works and what doesn’t work means there’s adjustments to be made, and retraining.
But all this “body armour” to support wonky joints and minimise damage has been making me think about other sorts of armour. The kind you can’t see. The kind that creates barriers between people, the kind that we all use to protect ourselves from being hurt and harmed emotionally and spiritually. Some folks use sarcasm; it works initially as a kind of instant stinger, that repels the advances of others, and then becomes habitual to ward off intimacy. Others just keep their tenderest emotions shut behind walls inside their souls and never let anyone through.
And there’s good reasons to do this. Be open and you become vulnerable.
Perhaps not as vulnerable as you may think, though.
My friend Kate and I were talking the other week and we were talking about the problem of being non-combatants in a war zone. I’m not talking about real, all-out modern warfare but a symbolic one. Call it a thought experiment. Non-combatants are there for all sorts of reasons: rescue workers, stretcher bearers, chaplains and so on. Within this scenario, a non-combatant is there to try and mitigate the effects of battle on those who are fighting; they’re there to patch up the injured, take away the wounded and the dead and minister to the spiritual needs of the fighters. They’re there by choice, not because they have been forced to be there. It’s usually because of a calling, a feeling that cannot be ignored that says that pretending it’s not happening is no longer an option. They’re almost always former fighters, who’ve come to understand that they cannot and will not engage in further battle but who cannot walk away and leave others to their fate.
Initially it’s very hard for them to lay down arms. Surely they will need to protect themselves, and if they have no weapons how can they be sure they will have their status as a non-combatant respected? There are no guarantees of safety. Laying down arms is a huge risk. But it’s that or go back to fighting. Then comes the removal of the armour. There’s the risk that they will be targeted by a sniper, or be struck entirely accidentally by flying debris of shrapnel. But the armour slows them down, tires them, and makes moving sensitively harder, so sooner or later that too is laid down too.
And there they are, unarmoured, unarmed and vulnerable. These are the saints, the bodhisattvas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bodhisattva , the great souls whose lives have transformed the world.
But first they had to lay down arms and armour.