Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
Emily Dickinson

So lost are we on that strange Sea, when fear rages and wracks our vessel against any hope of saving ourselves. I’ve been saddened lately as I see so many who are in fear, forgetting the little “bird” that stays with its owner and never asks for anything in return. The storm becomes less threatening and the music resumes only when we open the doors to the cage and let the sweet bird out to warm us, often for the first time in our lives. To further demonstrate how fear is our greatest adversary, I’ve taken the liberty of using Miss Dickinson’s poem as the framework for it’s opposite:

“Fear” is the thing with anchors,
That keeps us in our place,
And steals our native melody,
And hides us from all grace.

And darkest in the Gale is heard,
That rainbows bring the Light,
And raise our spirits, set us free,
So we crush what’s warm and bright.

Anchors will surely pull you down,
Just as you start to float,
Always, forever in Extreme,
They hunger to sink your boat.

The anchor of fear kept me at bay for the better part of my life, yet so often did the small bird of hope sing softly in my ear. I was good at playing small and scared and unworthy, not because I wanted it that way, but rather because I’d been taught from an early age that these things were true and on many levels I believed it. It was drilled into me that my needs, wants, and hopes were either ridiculous, non-existent, or unimportant. This happens to all of us in varying degrees when the adults in our world, who have never seen themselves as completely worthy and whole, continue to pass down the hurt and pain in unconscious, sometimes subtle ways. I challenge anyone who tells me that it can’t be stopped, that the chain can’t be broken, the bird freed…

For 22 years I lived in a relationship that was lop-sided. I thought it was all up to me to set things in balance. And so I lived without intimacy, affection, sex, the children I so wished to birth and raise, or even a fulfilling job.

At the time I thought it was only my husband that kept me in the proverbial pumpkin shell. I kept up a good front with family and friends and we appeared on the outside to be a long-standing, happy couple. The anchor of fear grew heavier and heavier and the little bird grew larger and sang louder. Hope had been patient for so long, until one day she began to peck and claw at the cage bars. My eyes and heart finally opened to the fact that I was scared out of my mind and afraid to face life.

The bird had outgrown the cage and she knew that if she didn’t fly soon her feathers would fall out and the cage doors would be forever rusted shut. She commenced to slashing at the anchor rope with her small but determined beak.

Instead of accepting a role that made someone else comfortable and pretending to be happy, I started doing things that called to my heart. Instead of wishing I could write like John Boy Walton or Emily Dickinson, or Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I started to BELIEVE I could. Instead of propagating the lie that my husband told me (literally) – that I was just “arm candy” and had no value beyond my teenaged occupation at Burger King – I put complete trust in God and myself and found a rewarding part-time job that supported me through training for a career that called to my heart. I reached down into the vast recesses of Robin and like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, started radiating my true, vibrant self and all the inner beauty that had been there all along. I left behind the superficial friends of my feigned life and found real friends; friends who lifted, supported, cheered, and offered spiritual tools for advancing my authentic self while repealing the lies and feelings of hopelessness.

This sweet, joyful, brilliant, shining bird appeared mostly as a loathsome monster to my husband. He worked desperately to put it back in the cage. His put-downs escalated until for one brief, encouraging moment, the bird rested on his shoulder. There was a glimmer of light in his eyes and the tenderness he once knew. But Fear was too strong – that he could not sustain a self-assured wife - that some things would have to change. With fire in his voice he declared that he liked things the way they had once been and there was no room for the new “me” who welcomed music, life…and birds.

It was difficult at first, weathering the storm that swirled around the cage. Many times I wanted to creep back inside where I once convinced myself it was safe. But the door had been opened. I liked my new self and the happy feelings that urged me further away from my inner confinement. It was startling and remarkable to experience the expanse and breadth of my wings!

Sometimes, on rare occasions, I still want to crawl back into some protective cage when storms hit. But I won’t…I can’t. To anyone who has caught even a glimpse of this rare bird called Hope, I invite you to let her perch a bit longer. Let her sing you a song that transforms wishes into realities. Hear her music rise above the din of the tempest of fear. Though you ache, let the music pull you from your melancholic cage into the dance of freedom. In that dance, allow the notes to fill your heart with joy and may you be ever warmed by your closer alignment with the Sun!    

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