Shield

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For once, this word is not derived from Latin. I know, amazing, right? 🙂

But oh, the meaning! Ah, the meaning! Yes, protection, but actually it means to divide, to separate. So result aside (protection), the intent is to keep the distance. It may seem I am making too much of it, but my infamous defence walls have always been a bit of a struggle for me. Don’t get me wrong, I need them, but the idealist in me rues that need. In my struggle for connection, how could I not regret (note, regret, not resent) the very thing that protects me? The mask, the quick quip, the attack, the logical analysis… so many ways of saying “I do not trust you to take care with my soul” therefore “you stay away, there where I can see you and watch your every move” because the alternative is to get my soul damaged by the same carelessness with which I raise these walls… wait, what?

Hmm, yes, I guess that makes sense, that we all have walls. It comes I think from the loss of innocence which then translates into a certain cynicism regarding people in general, although we do try to define the breadth of that mistrust.

From the Platonic halves to the Babel tower, we have struggled with the separation, with the difference, with the mistrust. We have found ways around the worst of it, too, in enlightment, in agape, in religion. Using them as shields. Unable to overcome the separation, we have built bridges and crossed them when at all possible. We have learnt to accept the separation and, in the course of a normal life, many of us don’t even struggle anymore. After all, what can be the point, when this is how it is, when there is no point to fight, when this is what we are fated for?

We have built our societies around it. We praise the separation and teach our children to respect it. Because, I assume, of death. Which we have demonized as the final separation (although even then we have attempted to build bridges).

Is this, then, the best that we can do? Love, learn, pray, then succumb to death? Build walls so that the words of our loved ones don’t harm too much? Struggle to keep our selves (bodies, but spirits, too) intact because we cannot even contemplate the alternative?

Hey, wait a minute!

Hey, wait a lifetime, you mean! For we are not born with those walls, yet few go out of childhood not having them. Those we call simple, naïve or angels. That innocence, again. I struggle with it.

And yet I am no stranger to the one thing that makes those bridges possible, that looks at separation and, if we but let it, has us trying again and again to cross.

I am talking, of course, of hope.

It is one of those things (like life, and freedom, and learning) that would look mighty strange were it extinguished.

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Change

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Mmm, interesting, this one… yes, the French and the Latin have had a go but it is probably derived from Celtic and it seemed to be back then “all about the money, all about the dum-dum-dum-de-de-dum”. Sorry, could not resist the song 🙂

Change also makes our lives interesting, and that’s probably the understatement of the year! For a species so loudly proclaimed as adverse to change, we seem to inflict a heck of a lot of it on ourselves! Note – we are also adaptable as a species, but that in no way cancels out the above – apples and oranges, you know?

I was thinking about changes lately, both from the challenge and the loss perspectives.

A change is a challenge mostly when you initiate it yourself, or when the result of the change leaves you… still you. So, ironically, a change is a challenge when you remain unchanged. You may change your country, your job, your house. As long as those changes are of your own accord, or irrelevant to your person (open plan office? Hot-desking? Technology updates? ) you grumble, mumble, rumble and get on with it.

A change is a loss when it is done to you, without your accord or with a result that leaves you diferent. Our individuality does not take this kindly, if at all. Death, separation, illness, natural or man-made disaster…. the list goes on. You may, in time, accept these changes, but you are not the same person as you were before the change, and we mourn this probably more than the actual change.

Change as loss is insidious and cunning, pervasive and disabling, annoying and startling. It is a digging and quarrying of the soul until nothing clean or whole exists and every bit of you is disjointedly propping up crumbling walls of the self, with the result of us limping fearfully through the same life we may have embraced before.

We may associate this type of change with loss of youth or innocence. We cannot unsee, unfeel, undo our experiences. We can, sometimes, traumatically forget and yet that isn’t an “unchange” so we reject it. But after the bewilderment and the anger and the grief, we prove our adaptability and we take the minutes and the days and the years onto this other path that is laid out inf ront of us.

We are brave, you know? We are brave exactly when it matters, in the dead of the night, when the seconds are unwillingly counted in breaths. And from the twisting and warping of who we were then, the bonsai understands, accepts, and tries its darnedest to protect the young, straight, tall sapling growing nearby.

I can but hope…

Innocence

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No surprises there, it comes from Latin… I really feel I am shortchanging the other beautiful classical languages, so I will keep it in mind and try to balance things out.

But innocence, well, it is a dangerous subject, it needs all the weight of history to keep it in its place.

Literally it means “without harm”. Not harmless per se, but one who has not been harmed yet. Is this an indictment on our way of life, that we consider children to be innocent but then we put away childish things when we grow up? As if life itself is expected to harm us not in the natural progression towards death, but in the stripping away of a protective covering we are born with.

But wait, don’t we grow defensive walls around ourselves against exactly this? So we first strip ourselves bare in the name of growing up then spend a lifetime trying and failing to return to that state? What are we doing to ourselves? And why do we praise the loss of innocence as a sign of maturity? Do we just want to remain children forever or is there something else?

I don’t know if I can answer that, but there are some observations to be made. First of all, innocence is expected, appreciated and protected when it is evident in children. Most adults are sad, angry and positively vengeful when children lose their innocence at the hands of other adults (most abuse does that). Innocence is also tolerated in those society discriminates against (think disabilities and race). The link there seems to be trust, for what it’s worth when the price is discrimination.

There is also the acceptance that innocence lost can never be retrieved. And this we sometimes do to ourselves. Whether as experiments or because of circumstances, we sometimes strip the innocence ourselves. But you cannot unsee, unhear or unfeel those things. So even later, when we have chosen perhaps a different pathway, those things remain tucked away in us, not enough maybe to ruin new experiences, but enough to give a somewhat bitter aftertaste to them.

It seems we can’t really avoid the loss of innocence, but then how can we use that loss to still continue to grow?

I would go for trust again. Being with people you trust can show us that beyond innocence lies not a wasteland, but a place of opportunity and beauty. Being able to trust allows us to lower our defenses so that we may share. Trusting others not to harm us means that any experiments we do can be at least fun and at best transcendent.

Now how do we get to trust? Or, to ask the better question, how can we become people others can trust? How do we go beyond cynicism (that’s hurt optimism for the lay people 😛 ) towards a state of… not ignorance, but of harmless curiosity? How do we, in truth, come back to innocence?

I’ll ponder this, the next time I will look at a baby.