Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Old T-Shirt

I feel like I have been tested, really tested. It is like I have been through a trial, a rite of passage, an initiation. However, I think I have confused the notion of initiation experience with initial experience. This is not a beginning, it is the middle…of an ongoing experience.

My beloved partner has taken up the mantle of a witch to be my guide this last week. She has shown me the best of her Kali spirit : words delivered like angry arrows, insults hurled with barbs, cruel, cutting criticisms – and that’s the good stuff!

When she really wants to get to me, I am treated to hours, even days, of intolerable silence. Never did silence bespeak so much disdain and scorn.

In a rare and generous moment, she deigned to share some words with me. Well, kind of. The words were in a letter, written by hand, delivered by hand. That all sounds rather nice, but the delivery was made without a single stated word. Soundless is bad. In the letter, she remarked that she was feeling lots of the hurts that she had felt in the past. She described it as feeling ‘the old t-shirt.’

I wanted to scream, ‘Yes, your fucking t-shirt, your safe space, your comfort zone. Why make me wear the horse-hair shirt, the sackcloth? I’ve felt it before, and it sucks.’

But I didn’t scream out the words. I didn’t respond. I said nothing. I looked inside myself – not retreating, but searching, on a quest.

And I found something. I found my anger, I found my sadness, and I found my own words – the ones I wanted to scream to her. I listened to my own words again. ‘Yes, I’ve worn this itchy, prickly shirt before, and I’ll probably get to wear it again and again and again and again. Better get used to it.’

I started to feel into the shirt. I felt its prickles against my skin. And I began to see my feelings differently. Underneath the prickles against my skin, I felt myself alive, alive enough to feel, to feel pain and hurt and sadness and anger and frustration.

Then, I started to feel the superficiality of the prickles. They were trivial, skin-surface, not skin-deep, they did not even constitute a flesh wound. What was I bellyaching about? Besides, these prickles were all self-inflicted. They were my response to her words.

I can’t say that the shirt now became comfortable like a t-shirt, but I did realise that I could choose to be irritated by the feeling on my skin, even as a t-shirt can begin to irritate me as I become conscious of its presence on my skin. I realized that a t-shirt or a prickly shirt can irritate.

I felt the shirt, and then, I chose to remove it. Now I was naked. I’m not sure that this was better. However, despite my discomfort, I felt a strength in being exposed, in seeing myself and in being seen.

From this point, I began to see that the t-shirt that my beloved was wearing was tight, incredibly tight. This can be very sexy, but right now, I could see that she was feeling pain, the t-shirt was constraining her, strangling her.

I wanted to remove this t-shirt from her, with pure intentions of course, that included both love and lust. However, I realised that the shirt was metaphorical. I cannot remove her t-shirt, her problem. I just felt her pain, her anguish.

Something magical happened then. When I got to this point, I was able to offer an apology for the hurt and pain I had caused, letting go of my own hurt, pain and desire for my suffering to be acknowledged. I was sorry for how she felt, and for my part in her hurt.

Then, to my complete surprise and delight, my beloved took off her t-shirt. She was beautiful to behold. I got to exercise my pure intentions and show her my love.

© Stephen Holden 2006

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