I planted daffodils today. Pale buttery ones with burnt orange centers. As it has snowed here the last 6 Sundays, I acted in deliberate faith that Spring is finally here. Connor and I dug up the bed around the big oak and we portioned the bursting bulbs out in couples. Each bulb has a partner so they support each other through the coming years like little maturing couples. Every year thy will shed their crinkly outer skin and renew themselves in a party of green stalks and showy summer outfits.
And we will shed our layers and boots and sweaters and once again wear as little as we can to slog through the humid, weedy Illinois summer. All the glory of feeling the sun on your skin. All the panic and shame that comes with it. Not everyone is comfortable in their own skin. Not everyone is Gal Gadot or Jason Momoa. When we ought to embrace the short season of abundance and life and joy and warmth, we are scrambling to do meal prep and Pilates and cover up those parts of ourselves that we expect others to note with negativity.
All my life, I wanted a bathing suit with sleeves and the ability to suck my thighs in.
Even in college, when my body was awesome enough to fit into a Chanel suit and wear a two piece on the beach in Monaco, I hid. I would find a shady spot and hope no one came by. One of my male friends once DID show up. I was 19 and unattached. He meant absolutely nothing but paying me the compliment of saying I had a nice little body. I picked up my towel and ran away. I mean I was throwing up every day doing an excruciating Stairmaster routine to punish myself. Because the women in my family have fat thighs. Because I have been called BIG BONED. I imagined myself as a T-Rex with chicken drumstick legs. And I hated the thought of being trapped in this body. This Soul Cage.
In October 1881, Rev. Dr. R. Thornton is paraphrased saying, “We ARE a Soul. We HAVE a body.” C.S. Lewis never really said this although he gets the credit. Following this logic that we are given a vehicle in which to have a human experience, I can only assume that some of us have Lamborghinis and some of us have the 1970’s Ford Pinto.
I believe I am not alone in the experience that my anxiety about my body has stopped me from living my dreams. I spent a lot of time trapped inside, wearing too many clothes in the heat, avoiding events, not trying for opportunities that would have raised me up, changed my whole life. My Soul Cage has stripped me of the freedom of doing what I love, in connecting with other people who love the same things.
Why can’t Hollye sing at the recital? She can’t leave the house because her thighs are too fat.
The term Soul Cages comes from a very old Celtic tale (predating Grimm). You can find it many places, but I like the version collect in Irish Folk & Fairy Tales by Samuel Butler Yeats (edited by W.B. Yeats). It’s about a merrow (merman) who keeps the souls of drowned sailors in little lobster cages like knickknacks. A human man finds out and sets out to befriend the merrow with intentions of releasing the trapped souls. Now the merrow himself is friendly and has no idea that he has committed a spiritual crime. Our finny friend thought it would be a cool thing to have, like a random grouping of Hummels. But when the human came to visit, he alone could the wails of despair and knew he must make a way to open the soul cages.
And so must we. We must find that thing – that trope or truc or article or magic key – that releases us from bodily shame and anxiety. Body-shaming others is now called out as a form of bullying, but the worst is always what we do to ourselves. What do you love? What is screaming inside of you loud enough to drown out the catty internal supermodel gorgon that hates the way this moves and that looks? What experience would melt the bars and shatter the lock?
The merrow part of us is that ego voice encouraging us to stay safe inside, don’t swim up toward the light. But the true human in us hears the low wail of a journey cut short, a dream neglected.
And the door swings the other way as well. If you are a soul with a supremely powerful and well detailed body, don’t let yourself be locked away from pursuits beyond the physical. You have a body -possibly THE body (as Heidi Klum calls herself). You are still a soul.
As for me, I head into this summer a size 14. I have been bigger and smaller. I am healthy and I am strong and my brain and heart are ready to move forward. I’m not buying in to ANYTHING that looks like deprivation and sadness and torture.
The miracle elixir for the perfect body is love. And gratitude.
I’m going to wear comfy summer clothes, feel the sun on my skin, eat strawberries and maybe a bit of chocolate. I’m going to sing and say yes to things I love.
You are a soul. You have a body that was NEVER intended to be a cage.