Tag Archives: freedom

Walled cities

I am drawn to walled cities.

I first became aware of this attraction when I visited Krakow, Poland, thirteen years ago and stayed inside the walls. Even though the walls are no longer intact, a park surrounds the Old City and marks where the walls had once been. I felt safe being inside the Old City.

On my second visit to Krakow a year later, I stayed outside the walls. Every morning, I crossed over into the Old City, and something about being inside the walls felt secure to me.

A few years later, a friend visited Carcassone, a walled city in France, and sent me videos. As soon as I saw the videos, I knew I wanted to visit. It took a few years, but I went last spring, and I specifically chose to travel with Overseas Adventure Travels (O.A.T.) because they offered the opportunity to stay inside the walls of Carcassone.

The tour started further north, though, in Angers, another city with walls. Once again, I felt drawn to being within the walls. When we got to Carcassone, I felt completely at home within the walls.

Last month, I visited Avignon, another walled city, and I again found myself drawn to the inside.

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Avignon, France

And then last week, I visited Italy and spent a few days in Lucca, a walled city in Tuscany.

The walls around Lucca are intact and the top of the wall is a wide path where people walk, run or bike. I walked the path several times during my stay, enjoying the views of the Old City below.

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One of the gates into the walled city of Lucca, named after St. Donato
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Inside the gate, I came across this fireplace and painting.

Not only is Lucca surrounded by a wall, but beyond the walls are mountains, creating the impression of a double boundary.

What is it that draws me to these enclosed places?

Walking the path on the walls of Lucca one day, I pondered the mystery of my attraction to walled cities, and I thought about growing up in Detroit.

Detroit is anything but walled, but there were certain streets which I never crossed. I stayed within the confines of an area around my house, never venturing beyond Woodward Avenue or Eight Mile Road. Without being told to, I had created my own walls.

Awareness brings an invitation, and my awareness of being drawn to walled cities and of creating physical boundaries, makes me think about other walls I have built—not necessarily physical walls but any kind of boundary that gives me a sense of security.

I find myself asking if my walls are a matter of security or a limitation, and if I being invited to step out from beyond the walls and take a chance on what is on the other side.

We are only as sick as our secrets

Secrets have been on my mind for the past year, ever since my mother revealed a secret she had been keeping for almost fifty years—which sparked my own awareness of a secret I had been keeping even longer.

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Since then, I seem to be very aware of others’ secrets and how often people shade the truth or tell half-truths to frame things in a different light.

For example, I recently attended a talk about Etty Hillesum, a woman who lived in Amsterdam during World War II. The speaker talked of Etty’s affair with her professor but failed to mention that Etty had had an abortion. I wondered why. Etty wrote about the abortion; it was not a secret, yet this person recalling Etty’s life left out this detail.

Was she trying to protect Etty by not talking about the abortion? Did she have feelings of shame around abortion that led her to omit it? This presentation was at a Catholic retreat center, and I wondered if the setting and the audience prompted this omission. But why did she include the details of the affair? It was all a mystery to me.  

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Secrets abound in the British detective tv shows I watch. Often, some secret is being kept which is key to solving the mystery.  “Why didn’t you tell us?” the detective asks in exasperation when the secret finally comes out. The detective doesn’t care that the grandfather had a child with the maid or that the mother had a wild past or that the children have squandered their inheritance. The detective just wants the facts and not an edited version of history.

It seems that we can be our own worst judges when it comes to our secrets, believing that the worst will happen if our secrets are revealed.

The truth is that we are the same people we were before our secrets were revealed, and those who love us will continue to love us once they know our secrets.

People may be surprised or even shocked to learn of some traumatic event in our past. They may have to adjust their image of us. They may review the relationship in light of new information, but if they really love us, they will get over their shock and adjust their image. They will remember that we are the same person we were before they knew our secrets.

I have always been open about being a rape survivor, but not everyone in my life knows about it, mostly because it does not come up in everyday conversation and because I have moved around a lot. The “getting to know you” phase of new friendships don’t usually include talk of rape or other traumas, so while my history is not a secret for me, it usually doesn’t come up until a relationship is established.

My goal is to have nothing to fear, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I desire to live transparently, holding nothing back and keeping no secrets.

Secret-shame-vulnerability

Reinventing myself

An entry on my affirmation calendar read, I enjoy reinventing myself. It’s like giving my identity a makeover!

When I moved back to Michigan almost nine years ago, I had planned to use my Polish name instead of the English translation—Magdalena instead of Madeline, or Magda for short. I had recently been to Poland and everyone there called me either Magdalena or Magda, and I liked it.

My grandfather used to call me Magdusha—a twist on my Polish name and a term of endearment. I liked that, too.

But I was deep in grief when I moved here, and I forgot to introduce myself as Magdalena or Magda, and before I knew it, everyone called me by my English name.

A few years later, though, I started taking Polish classes at a nearby Polish church, and there I was known by my Polish name. Happy day!

This calendar affirmation took me back to that desire to reinvent myself more in line with my Polish heritage. As I reflected on that identity, though, another reinvention occurred to me—to be reinvented in the image God holds for me.

Isaiah 62:3 came to mind: You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

I remember the first time I read these words as a young adult and felt they were being spoken to me and about me. The image of myself in the hand of God, something bejeweled and beautiful, sparkling diamonds and deep green emeralds. That was how God saw me—as something to behold, someone who took one’s breath away.

Living as if I see myself as a crown or diadem is a stretch. I have usually seen myself more as a dull pewter, so adapting a shinier persona calls for a shift in my thinking.

Perhaps being connected to my Polish heritage is part of that new image because when I am connected to my ancestors, I have a wider and deeper understanding of who I am and where I came from—and a different way of knowing myself.

Perhaps leaning into the image of myself as being held in God’s hand is also key, because that image leads me to live in trust rather than fear. God has me, I tell myself.

Not having a job has reinvented me into a woman with time and freedom to structure my days as I please, to do the things I want and not do those I don’t.

The passing years are reinventing me into an elder, and aging has its own reinvention process.

Speaking publicly about my abuse history has shown me a courage I did not know I possessed—add that to the mix.

These past six months, I have been on sabbatical, resting, reading, writing—and pondering who I will be and how I will live this next chapter of my life.

Reinvented, sparkly as diamonds on a tiara—I want to be brilliant.

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Be the seed

Wrapped in the embrace of one you love,

dwelling in the affirmation of the one who loves you,

surrender to the knowledge that you are accepted as you are.

You are good enough and even more.

You are who you were meant to be,

where you are meant to be,

learning from the past,

leaning into the future.

Think of the seeds of a flower,

caught on the breeze,

spreading their beauty far and wide,

because they are light enough

to be lifted and carried.

To be that light, that free,

that we can trust the wind

to carry our goodness to the world,

which needs our love and

gentleness so that others can know themselves

as good enough and even more.

Claim your treasure

Every Monday, I look forward to an email in my inbox from Shola Richards with a message about positivity. Confronting fears was the theme of last Monday’s email, and the message spoke directly to me, especially the opening quote:

“Inside the cave you fear, lies the treasure you seek.”

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I have a fear of caves, so the very idea of stepping into the darkness of a cave made me shutter. But the idea that the treasure I seek is hidden within made sense to me.

“The only way past the pain is through the pain,” came to mind as I pondered entering a dark, fearful place like a cave.

What I fear won’t go away on its own; I need to confront it and move through it. I need to step into what seems ominous and threatening. The only way to find the treasure is to enter the cave.

I had an insight into this truth a few weeks ago. I was talking with someone about being a rape survivor, and I said the name of the man who raped me.

Two things happened almost immediately.

The first was that I had not realized that fear had me in its grip, but as soon as I said his name, the fear dissipated and was replaced with a sense of power. Instead of standing outside the cave, fearing the darkness, just saying his name sparked a light.

The second was something from the Harry Potter books. The main adversary in the series is an evil character commonly known as “He who must not be named.”  In that instant of speaking the name of the man who raped me, I realized how much power I had been giving him all these years just by protecting his name.

Why had I been protecting him? Why had I not spoken his name? As in the Harry Potter series, once Lord Voldemort is named, his power is diminished. Fear is replaced by freedom.

When I relayed these events to a friend, she quoted scripture, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:38).

Fear can be crippling. It can keep us stuck in darkness, giving up our power and limiting our potential.

Naming our fears can break the spell, and we can reclaim our power and our freedom.

I invite you to step inside the cave and claim your treasure.

Interpretative dancing

I did not know what to call it,

the way my body moved to the music,

first swaying smoothly and then shaking like a rag doll,

speeding up and slowing down,

depending on the song

and the day

and even the time of day,

feet gliding across the polished hardwood floors,

arms raised in protest and

then fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird

faster and faster

my own version of a whirligig.

Interpretative angst dancing someone suggested.

Yes, that’s it.

Rhythm of my heart

(Originally published in Red Tent Living on the theme Woman in Red)

Learning about Spanish culture was one part of my college summer school program in Madrid, Spain, and that meant churches, museums, bullfights, and flamenco dances. There were also many visits to nightclubs—called discotecas—but I don’t think my professors considered those part of my cultural education.

I thoroughly enjoyed every museum and would gladly return to Spain to see more art, but I could have done without the bullfights (they were quite gory) and after about ten churches, I was pretty much churched-out. Flamenco dancing was in its own category though.

Those women in red, flounced dresses, spinning and stomping their feet, touched something deep inside me.

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While I sat still in rapt attention, seemingly quite contained, everything inside me was exploding, and I was joining in the dance. I could imagine myself dressed in a flamboyant red dress, flipping the hem back and forth, creating the impression that I was in perpetual motion.

My love of dance goes back to my childhood when I took tap and ballet classes at the local community center. I was the self-conscious child during recitals whose movements were restrained. On the outside, I was timid and shy, afraid of drawing attention to myself for fear of being criticized. Deep down, I was tapping up a storm and my ballet moves were swanlike, but that movement stayed inside.

Neither tap nor ballet lasted long. I didn’t know how to explain what was happening on the inside, how the dancing was giving me the opportunity to be free, how those tiny movements of my body were amplified on the inside. My mother thought it was a waste of money since I did not seem to be having fun.

In her thirties, a friend took tap dancing lessons, and I went to her recital. She wore a Carmen Miranda hat and danced her heart out. She inspired me to take belly dancing classes, which I did for several years. I thought of it more as exercise than dance, but I did buy a red hip scarf with gold coins dangling from it.

Fortunately, these classes were in a room with no mirrors, so the only image I had was the one in my mind, and in my mind, I was one great belly dancer! The teacher encouraged us to make dramatic movements—hips swaying from side to side with a little oomph for emphasis. It was tremendous fun, and it helped free me to let what was inside out.

A few years ago, I saw Riverdance in Dublin, Ireland, which included flamenco dance. My reaction was the same as it had been thirty-some years ago. I was swept up in the movement and could imagine myself dressed in red, swaying rhythmically.

Dance has always touched something deep inside me. Whether I am distressed, sad, or even happy, I find that dance can help me express my emotions. At home, I often turn on music and dance. It is a great stress reliever, and it helps me get in touch with my body. When I can let go of my inhibitions and let my body move freely, I can also let go of tears. Dance is cathartic.

Winter dance

Strong winds swirl around my house,

bending and swaying bare branches

to a tune I cannot hear.                                                                                

They dance with abandon,

oblivious to my comings and goings,

unaware of my desire

for peace and stillness.

The winds prevail,

and I bundle up in layers,

a hat pulled over my head and

a scarf wrapped around my face,

three times, four times,

until only my eyes are visible.

Stepping outside, I brave the wind and the

tiny ice crystals that assault me.

Winter is here, I announce to no one in particular.

I listen for the music of the wind,

let go of my need for control and

enter into the dance of the trees.