A strange visitation but I’m not crazy.

My earliest memory is of my parents reading me a story: narrative is my first conscious memory of the world. It’s something I treasure, and I’ve been writing stories since I could write, and telling myself stories since even before that.

About five years ago, one of these stories got serious. I was regularly catching the bus to work at the time – about a ninety-minute bus-ride either way – and I’d spend each of those one hundred and eighty minutes frantically typing away on the small blue Toshiba laptop with the conversations of suburban school children ringing over my head, creating a world, and events within it, and the characters – one in particular – who peopled it. For three hours every day, I’d inhabit that different world, a world taking shape under my fingertips and in the small universe contained by my computer.

Then everything changed. I moved, with my ex, and suddenly didn’t have a wonderfully long commute to work. Writing was something my ex begrudged me – he, not I, was the writer in the family – and it became impossible for me to write in a war-zone. Suddenly, far from having seemingly unlimited time to put into my writing, it became sneakily snatched in small, furtive moments. Attempts to prioritise my writing led to things I still don’t want to think about; the final argument about it led to my computer being smashed and hard copies of my writing torn up, right there in front of me. I put it aside, and resigned myself to the unmourned death of my writer self.

In the two years since Emancipation Day, I’ve occasionally wondered what happened to the main character, the gutsy, strong stranger I’d birthed from within my own mind. I thought about her in the past tense – like an old friend who I’d once known well, but with whom I’d lost contact, and with whom there was no chance of reconnecting. I thought of her with regret, but resignation.

And then, all of a sudden – and travelling seems to be the common denominator here – driving home from work, I found myself thinking of her, not with regretful past tense, but in the present tense. In my mind, she was out in the rain for a run, something she’d always enjoyed, found peace in. In the present tense. Then and there. Suddenly, in the weirdness of my creativity, she was alive again.

I’ve only had that one glance, and I’m a little apprehensive about the process of regaining connection with her – what if that fleeting glimpse, that fragment, is all I’ll get? But if nothing else, her sudden presence in my mind is a reminder of the indomitable nature of my creativity: yet another thing, precious and stalwart, which couldn’t be beaten out of me.

I’m grateful. And, strangely, I’m looking forward to re-acquainting myself with a person who doesn’t actually exist.

I’ve worked out what the right-brained image means. And I don’t like it.

I wrote yesterday about my image of prayer: howling winds. Desolation and bleakness, a cold, grey, wind-whipped landscape. And my thinking around this was as follows: a, the Sacred exists in and through all things; b, the Sacred is something I’ve fairly frantically shut out of my life because the experience of divine compassion will challenge me and force me to feel what I’ve been trying not to feel; c, the Sacred has entered my life and touched my soul in myriad ways despite my frantic attempts to shut it out; d, I am now called to actually leave the safety of my intellectual world and enter that howling maelstrom; e, the act of doing so is me finally stepping out to meet the Creator, rather than waiting, passive and frightened, for the Creator to come to me.

So I entered the Cathedral today with the intent of doing just that: of answering that call, of trying, deliberately, to open myself up in the beauty of the liturgy to the Divine Presence against which I’m often closed-hearted. Of being vulnerable to the touch of the Creator: exposed, laid bare, unshielded to the Source of compassion.

And here’s what I realised: it’s hard. It’s frightening. It hurts, and it makes my hands shake and it makes it almost impossible to sing. Howling winds are raw, elemental. It’s scary out there, unprotected by intellectualism and rationality and analysis. Out of my head, and into something else. Because here’s the other thing I’ve only just realised: the desolation of howling winds is my right-brain’s way of imaging my emotions. Emotions resulting from ten years of abuse, of heartache, of fear and shame and loathsome acts committed against me, acts which I’m only just starting to draw back into my consciousness, just starting to make room for. Ten years over which I’m only just starting to be able to grieve, and rage, and mourn. Ten years which I won’t truly escape until I acknowledge, and name, what went on.

I can’t live in my head forever. My head is full; my intellectual life is rich; my spiritual life is not. My spiritual life – the life of soul, of emotion, of those things I can’t intellectualise and rationalise and analyse – is desolate. If I am to meet the Sacred where It’s calling me, I must face those howling winds head-on. Because for me, at the moment, prayer – true prayer, true engagement with the Ground of my being – means also opening myself to emotions I’d rather not face. That’s where I’m being called right now. That’s why I’m being called there.

And that’s going to mean that singing is hard, and my hands will shake and my voice will fail, and I will question my right to be in the choir, and it’s coming up to all the Christmas singing so it’s a really inconvenient time. But then, we’re talking about the Creator of time here – I guess that God’s idea of a convenient time is slightly different to mine. I just have to trust that somehow, it will all work out in the end – and hope fervently that I don’t screw up the Christmas singing in the meantime.

Because surely God knows what It’s doing, right?

Four short reflections on vulnerability: four.

Almost over.

Walking back to the choristers’ vestry after the Mass on Sunday. Close to tears, frantically trying to keep them hidden. My hands still shaking with the pointless, senseless anxiety still screaming its warning through my veins and in the nerves of my neck and shoulders. Wanting only to find somewhere alone, and hidden, and weep myself into exhausted silence: mourn what I’ve so far left unmourned until I’m utterly spent. Instead, I make meaningless conversation with a fellow chorister, and no one sees anything untoward, and the moment – the chance to mourn what I really need to learn to mourn – is lost. 

I fear my vulnerability. Depending on the context, I hide it behind competence or quietness. I keep myself well-hidden and although I am surrounded by people who are gracious enough to show me love, I feel truly known by few of them (for the record, I’m grateful for that. I’m deeply and profoundly and overwhelmingly grateful for those friends who are true friends to me). Part of me wishes that this wasn’t the case. Part of me wishes I could simply hold out my vulnerability, my mourning, my fear and regret and shame, and how much it just all hurts sometimes, and allow those people I love and who I know love me – one of the blessedly many people – to simply cradle it all for me. Part of me longs for that. Part of me, though, recoils from the idea; of letting myself be seen, light and dark, beauty and shameful ugliness. Because it’s easier to be loved at a distance, by someone who sees only what I want them to see, than it is to be truly loved: accepted wholeheartedly, for all that I am. To be bathed in light and have to acknowledge my darkness, my shame. My hurt. It really is much easier to stay at a distance.

Vale to a young soul.

A week ago a reader wrote a comment on my blog. She writes that “today a young girl, twenty-two years old, lies dead. The victim of a domestic violence shooting…How I wish she’d had the courage to leave…and stay away.”

I know people who are twenty-two. Two of my closest friends in Newcastle are twenty-two. They are vibrant and vivid and alive. Their lives are open in front of them. They shine with beauty and potential and the strength of who they are, and I admire them more than I can say.

This girl too had people who saw her in that light. A life spreading out in front of her. Travel. Study, a career. A family. A whole world she could have changed just by being who she was. And in a second, a heartbeat act of unspeakable violence, all that was changed.

And there are a lot of us out there who can say, “That could have been me”. If not a gun, then a knife. Or a fractured skull or a brain injury. Internal injuries. Or that slow death of the battered soul of a person living in such fear, under such tyrrany, who in the end does their oppressor’s life-destroying job for them. Alcohol, or pills or a razor in the bath. The edge of a cliff; the train line. That could have been me. That could have been so, so many of us.

Between one quarter and one half of Australian women will experience violence, perpetrated by a man, at some stage in their lives. Most frequently this will occur in the home, and it will be perpetrated by a male partner. So many of these assaults and abuses will – like those against me, perhaps like those against this girl – go formally unreported. Because we are ashamed. Because we are frightened. Because we are taught to believe that it’s our fault. Because we are taught to lie to those who could help us, who could strengthen us. Some of us have the right combination of circumstances, and the right resources, that we can escape. Some of us don’t. Some of us can’t.

I did get out. I had people who were strength for me. Who were my determination. Who held my hope when I had none for myself. And there are tears on my cheeks as I write this: tears for a girl who couldn’t get out. Tears for a girl – just twenty-two years old – who now needs no determination, no strength, no hope. Tears for a family, a circle of friends, a community, who must now begin the agonising – and lifelong – job of healing and rebuilding. Tears because although I hope with all of my scarred and hopeful soul that she will be the last, I know with pained certainty that she will not. There will be many others. Some will get out with their lives. Others won’t.

I take a deep breath and thank God for the life running through my veins. I rage against the violence which took a vibrant soul from the world. I weep for her family and friends and the empty space she leaves behind, and I mourn her and the atrocity of her death.

May she rest in peace.