The phoenix’s inconspicuous burning
The most badass things you’ll do in your life won’t be instagrammable and chance are that no one will even witness them.
That’s what I thought to myself when, browsing through Instagram, I saw this (beautiful) picture of a female HEMAist, tall and thin, with her glistening longsword, wearing fancy legging and sports-bra, in a breathtaking scenery that could have been Zelda Tears of the Kingdom, doing solo-drills for the camera’s eye.
First, I tough « wow ». But, almost immediately I added : « wait a second ».
« That’s not what the truly important moments in HEMA practice look like ».
The truly important moments are those when, dripping like a mountain-stream, as exhausted as the instructor by the suffocating 33°C that are hitting the capital, you go to class. Regardless. You sweat, you feel utterly undignified, you are ugly to look upon, and you painstakingly go through your sparring. Without an ounce of glory (or even freshness or enthusiasm, at that).
The truly important moment in your « personal development » (a word admittedly so flat and smooth you could iron your clothes on) is probably the one, when, in tears and heaped on your couch or a random wet bench in a city street, you have decided, at your wits’ end, and because there was really nothing else to do, to stop hurting yourself. To not attach your value, beauty and worthiness to this (catastrophic) relationship you just ended, this third job in a row you quit or this dream-loaded project that ended up crashing in a loud bang.
It’s nothing shiny. It’s the flameless and inconspicuous burning of a phoenix when you finally pick up your bewildered, bereft, sobbing inner kid and sit it on your lap saying to her or him « it’s ok ». « You don’t have to succeed at things for me to love you and take care of you. This time, we are not using this job/boyfriend/girlfriend/project as a stick to beat ourselves up. We are disappointed and miserable, yes, but oh this time there’s no way we’ll treat ourselves like crap because it happened. We are not some sort of glittery ornament. Life is hard. Come close, let’s hug. »
This discreet burning of this phoenix is the solid stonework and masonry of your very foundations. It is a freestanding kind of self-worth that needs nothing and no one to support it. You treat yourself right (or as right as you can). Without conditions. Without haggling. Most of all without blackmail. You no longer see yourself as a circus animal whose only purpose is to do tricks and cause a sensation on demand.
At almost 40, I realised that all my life, I have carried inside of me a little Elisa, totally choked and crushed by the duty and obligation to dazzle others. And believe me, there was nothing fancy or motivating in that. It was along the lines of « impress or die ». I was at the mercy of this injunction and lived guilt-ridden to not be « enough », to bear the stain of always coming short. To amount to nothing.
It’s not courage, or a fiery decision to rebel this order that started my healing, but the thin sad smile of my own exhaustion. It took a total burn-out and severe depression for this small, sad smile to take hold inside of me and whisper « now, you stop running around ».
It was, again this gentle smile that encouraged me, when, trembling in my socks, I decided to stop playing a role that was a shield between me and my shame and guilt to not be « enough ». It would have been comparatively easier to run -like a lunatic- if utter exhaustion had not gently caught me by the wrist and softly said « it’s not working any more. Stop ».
Facing these big fanged monsters of guilt and shame was one of my biggest combats (but let’s not be hasty, I have not yet told you about my combat with sadness, so, let’s keep some room on the podium for later), one that happened almost entirely backstage, where no one would see.
On the outside, this combat happened through tiny things, like starting metal longsword, where I used to believe I was not capable of handling anything but a foam Go-Now. I came to class with the Ferometer at ten thousand. I dared to suck (at any rate, my inner mean girl was telling me that I sucked. Anyway she would have preferred me to not embark on anything that I couldn’t guarantee I could do excellently. Like being alive for example). Little by little, I began to apologize less. I decided to stop speaking to people who lived and breathed just for performance and competition. I ended relationships where I constantly had to « convince » someone of my value (according to their yardstick, of course). i silently quit my position as a circus animal whose sole purpose is to do tricks and create a sensation on demand.
Ever so slightly, without a fanfare, something like strength began to make itself felt. Not a loud, noisy one like fireworks. Rather something slow and large, like the tide. Millions of tons of water rising and falling calmly, without making a fuss. But that cover and uncover kilometers of coastal shore, and that dictates when the ships can leave the harbour.
True strength can’t really « show itself », but it is expresszed through everything you are and do. You are alsmost the only person to witness it firts hand, and to fully measure what it means. It’s not shiny, but it is unfailing.
And when you will begin to feel it, you will never want to trade it for the mirage you used to chase before.Modifier