“I wonder as I write this…if there will be one person to read it and see a thing that is mingled with every word. It is something that you must feel, that must fascinate you, the like of which you have never before met with.
It is the unparalleled individuality of me.”
- The Story of Mary MacLane
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of. Our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: Which is another way of saying no one is.
- The Incredibles
“And at some point I believe one has to stop holding back for fear of alienating some imaginary reader or real relative or friend, and come out with personal truth.
- May Sarton
“I’m not afraid
To take a stand
Come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just letting you know that, you’re not alone
Holla if you feel like you’ve been down the same road”
- Eminem, Not Afraid
“Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all
But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free”
- Mumford and Sons, Awake My Soul
“He did not smile at his employees, he did not take them out for drinks, he never inquired about their families, their love lives or their church attendance. He responded only to the essence of a man: to his creative capacity…It bred an immense feeling of self-respect within every man in that office…They knew only, in a dim way, that it was not loyalty to him, but to the best within themselves.”
* * *
“‘How did you know what’s been killing me? Slowly, for years, driving me to hate people when I don’t want to hate…Have you felt it, too? Have you seen how your best friends love everything about you – except the things that count? And your most important is nothing to them, nothing, not even a sound they can recognize. You mean you want to hear?’…Then he sat for hours, listening, while Mallory spoke of…the thoughts that shaped his life, spoke gluttonously, like a drowning man flung out to shore, getting drunk on huge, clean snatches of air.”
- Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
A couple days ago I was listening to music. Two songs played, one right after the other. The two I have quoted from above. One from Mumford and Sons and one from Eminem. If you notice, both of these lyrics include hand holding.
Now typically when I think of hand holding I think of it in a needy, co-dependent sort of way. “Hold my hand because you’re going to need help. Hold my hand because you can’t do this alone. Give me your hand so you can hand over whatever it is you’ve been secretly clutching in your mitts.”
From time-to-time I see my four-year-old attempting to make a break from this hand-holding necessity: “You do not need to hold my hand. I am big now.” We resist holding hands because it is so often translated as an admission that we don’t have what it takes to do what needs to be done. It often translates as shame.
What I found in these two songs though was something entirely different in the touching of hands. Rather than a clingy, “I’m going to need you to lead so I can follow, and please tell me where I should put my foot down next, because I’ll probably get it all wrong,” there is a sort of resolute detachment in the message. We are holding hands because we’ve found we’re speaking the same language and heading the same direction and drawing from the same internal and eternal strength that bubbles somewhere within us like a Fountain of Youth.
I was talking to my friend Teresa this week, and I asked her, “Do you suppose a healthy relationship could often say, ‘I’m doing this for me, not for you?’ It sounds so selfish, but in a certain context it’s really not selfish at all. It’s detached.” I went on to explain how I am her friend not because I feel sorry for her, or I know she needs me, or because I’m supposed to be nice. I’m her friend because I saw something in her, a glimmer of something that looked an awful lot like me (the me I had hidden away) and if I could call that out in her, then maybe, just maybe, I’d be allowed to call that out in me too.
I remember when I first started meeting with Teresa, I was worried about the amount of time she was giving me, both through texts and in person. I would preface my asks with, but “I understand if you don’t want to” or “I know it might be too much but…” or “I’m sorry I’m asking again, but…” She quickly ended that by saying, “I’m not here because you want me here. I’m here because I want to be here.” At first I was a little taken aback by that, but quickly I came to see great value in this. It took so much pressure off, and it saved us a lot of time to cut out all the niceties. She was not looking to collect payment or to pay off a debt. She was simply close because she chose to be. And so was I. To this day, when Eminem’s “storms” hit, Teresa and I both reach out to each other (and other kindreds) in order to feel a hand in the dark. That is enough.
I believe this is the sort of hand holding Eminem and Mumford and Sons are speaking of. This is why Eminem says, “Are you on the same road, because if you are, we might as well travel together rather than alone.” And why Mumford says, “Look, you can’t give me your heart, because I’ll probably screw that up. I’m not going to be able to keep you safe and protected and away from hurt and coddle you. I’m not going to know what your heart needs and be able to keep it fed and watered. You’re going to have to be the one to vouch for your heart and speak up for what you need. And your soul, my god, you’ve got to keep your soul because it’s what makes you you. It’s that spark of the Divine within you. And we’ve already established the fact that I need you to be you because that gives me hope that I could actually get to be me. But if you give me your hand, why we can travel together. Side-by-side. I can show you what I see, and you can show me what you see and this way we’ll be equals moving forward with twice the momentum.”
So often in relationships I have felt a tug to change myself to accommodate the other person. Even as a writer and artist, there are times where I feel drawn to edit my voice to accommodate readers or followers. I have literally felt the pull to limit myself, so I can help someone else along. That sense that, “I owe it to them to not leave them behind. To not confuse them or to properly explain my intentions and my actions, or to be polite and cordial so that no one gets their feelings hurt. I’m doing them a disservice if I don’t feel I need them.” Trouble is, it feels a lot like giving away my soul and my heart.
I think as Christians we put a lot of emphasis on giving and sacrificing and helping others. But I’m not sure all giving and sacrificing and helping is equal. What I love about The Fountainhead is this idea that what people really need is not another Savior to rush in and sweep them to safety, but rather what they desire is to be treated like an equal. For a person to say, “I see something in you that makes me come alive,” and to extend a hand as if to say, “Could you show me more of that?” To acknowledge another person on this level is to call forth their own dignity. To witness them developing their own inner core and standing alone.
I see many leaders that are asking for followers. They want to do the sort of hand holding that my four-year-old son is wanting to break free from. (That maybe, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all wanting to break free from.) “Let me make you like me. Let me do this for you because you’re going to screw it up. Let me show you how to do it ‘right.’” I think it’s easy to think this sort of leadership is working because it does conjure up a feel-good emotion. The leader thinks, I am helping someone. I am rescuing someone. That’s what friends are for. Lives are being changed. I have saved someone. And I am important. They’ll keep coming back to me for more.” And the follower may have equally feel-good emotions. “I’ve been rescued. I’m indebted to you. I couldn’t live without you. How can I ever repay you? I’ll return again for my next installment.”
Just for the record, I don’t think you need that sort of leader or that sort of friend. I think there is a part of you saying, “I really do believe I could lead myself. Why is it so wrong to think I know my heart better than anyone else? Why is it selfish for me to take the lead of my own life?”
I love that first quote I share above by Mary MacLane and that Incredibles quote and that last quote from The Fountainhead so much because I think it’s what any of us would say if we had a way to turn off all the self-editing switches we have flipped on. We would say, “There is something to me that cannot be compared to anyone else, because it is uniquely and utterly me, and if I could just get someone to see THAT part. Why, then I could be myself, for once. Wouldn’t that be a relief?”
So the tricky part, I’m finding, in living this sort of detachment is that you do have to put yourself out there all alone. Which means you do have to have a sense of who you are detached from who everyone has requested you to be. It feels a lot like the spiritual or emotional version of working your physical core. To not be afraid to take a stand requires core muscles to hold your wobbling legs. But the hope is in doing so, someone else on the same road will catch a glimmer of themselves in your mirror, and they’ll be brave enough to put their hand in yours, not to be led, but to walk as equals. Then hand-in-hand you’ll gain some strength to press even more into those heart and soul parts that only the individual can choose to set free. It’s the hand in yours that tells you, “You’re not crazy.”
(And as a side-note, that hand in yours isn’t always a person that is alive. It could be a kindred spirit from the past, like Mary MacLane, May Sarton, or Ayn Rand.)
I personally can do very little for you. But I can say, as I hope I have done in this post, that little glimmer of rebellious hope you feel, that notion that you have something to offer the world? I see that, and I want to see more. I see your tender, vulnerable, shaky hand extended with a little bit of magic inside, and I know the resolve and courage it takes to hold it out. I see it and I want more, not because I know you need me or because I feel sorry for you or because I’m supposed to be nice, but because if you press into being unapologetically uniquely you and owning it and creating a wild life with a style all your own, then my soul and heart can whisper, “Maybe I can do that too.”
Maybe this magic I feel inside of me doesn’t have to be stifled or handed over ashamedly to someone better equipped to manage it or explained away as common because “Silly Mandy, everyone has magic. Everyone is the same kind of special as you.”
“No,” I whisper. “No they aren’t.” And that whisper echoes in the valley of your very own chest.
* * *
Teresa and I started a little community for this sort of hand-in-hand living. It’s called The Art Journaler Community. It just so happens we’re talking about whispers and wishes this month. The theme for March is #beartracking, and we’re tapping into that bear strength to help us whisper and wish out loud. We’d love to have you join us, even if you’ve never art journaled before.
You can read more about The Art Journaler Community and sign up HERE.