Bed time at my best friend’s house. I sit in bed with her little boy, my arms around him, holding the book we read, his warm little body leaning against me, his tiny fingers paying absentmindedly with my beard as we discover what Fantastic Mr Fox is going to do in Farmer Boggis’s chicken shed. Story time has become for me the most beautiful time of the week, I am totally at peace and in love with the world.
He turns to face me with an oh so adult frown on his face “Why are you shaking” he asks me pointedly. I pause, taken aback for a moment. I do shake, I always shake, I have done most of my adult life, I have been stiff, and hunched and shaking with tension. “It’s just my muscles get very stiff and tense sometimes, so they shake.” We return to the story, this half truth told and soon we mark the page and I tuck him in to seep. Perfect as children are in these soft moments before sleep and dreams enfold their world.
I sit downstairs and stare into the candle, and wonder. How do I tell him the whole truth, that I shake and tense under the sheer crippling wait of being a Man. Of the weight and responsibility of my life, my power, my mistakes and weaknesses, of the million and one hatreds and accusations a Man must face. The shame for mistakes he never knew he was making because no one was there to guide him, or the pain he caused knowingly, recklessly that he can never take back. The boiling oil of recrimination his culture pours on him from their marble towers. Screaming he is responsible for the pain they have suffered at the hands of Men throughout history. Demanding he pay for crimes he would never commit, could never condone and cannot understand.
How do I tell him I am crushed by the armour I wear, the armour I forged long ago and have strengthened every day since. The armour I thought I wore to protect myself from the average every day agonies of life, but sometimes suspect a truth that maybe, I was also forced to wear the armour by culture that wants to protect itself from me, from Men.
I think that maybe I should tell him that a man needs armour, but the mistake a man can make is that of the old knights and warriors that live in his blood. The great Western warlords that lumbered round in plate upon pate of armour, ring upon ring of heavy chain mail that may stop the blow of a sword, or lance, but just as often can overbalance a man dragging him down choking and drowning in the dank wet mud of the earth. A desperate, pathetic death so many Men suffer quietly, anonymously on the great and gruesome battleground of our lives.
Maybe we need to choose the armour of earlier men, the hardened ox leather and bearskins of the great Men of the Dumnonii, the Belgae and Durotriges that lived, loved, fought and wept in these hills and fields around my home. Armour you can move in, remove easily so you are protected when needed, but vulnerable enough to feel the brutal beauty of the word and live and love so much better, with so much more reverence knowing you can never - never escape pain. And nor should you, it is too great a teacher, too loving a lesson for us ever to walk as Men not feeling it.
I look at my armour on the table in front of me, I trace infinite dents and scars across its surface, the talon scrapes of the banshees that tried to prize it from me so they could steak me out on the earth pale, naked and helpless so they could tear out my heart and devour it in front of me. The hammer blows from teachers and TV hosts, journalists and activists. The armies of women - and men hurling rocks and spears, firing arrow and cannon, screaming and chanting “Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails! Rapist! Misogynist! Filthy little boy! Murderer! Wife beater! TOXIC! TOXIC! TOXIC! DANGER! DANGER!!”
“Maybe this ungainly awful crushing cloak of iron has served me well” I think, but then I notice the claw marks on the inside, the scratching and scrapings of desperate fingers, trapped in the darkness, the broken fingernails I recognise as mine, lost as I scream and wail with terror in the cloying metallic darkness of my own protection.
And the penny drops, the light shines, a snow white owl swoops through the dark oaks of my memory and I remember. I remember.
A Man does not need armour in this world. What He needs is His sword.
With a sword he can move light as a dancer, free as a bird chest bared, heart open to all the pain and wonder of this brutal, beautiful life. With a sword he is safe and strong, no matter how much life pierces his heart.
And I wonder, I wonder where, on which battle field, in which schoolroom, what temple, or by whose bedside I left my sword. I may have to go back many, many generations to find it, or maybe it's hiding under my own bed with a half finished poem and a photo of a tree in a foreign dessert.
Wherever it is I need to find it, I need to clean and oil its blade, clear some space in the courtyard of my heart and start training.
The world needs Men who can wield their sword, who know when to use it and when to fall to our knees in reverence and offer it up to the infinite power of the Cosmos. Because without our sword and the will and training to use it, we are lost and weak and dark and dangerous and the whole world quakes.
We have spent too long stripping men of their swords, we are being trained to be Men with twigs, our arms tied behind our backs and forced to our knees with a shame that is not ours, we did not earn and we do not deserve.
We need to be brave. To trust Men again, hand Men back the swords we forced them to melt into chains. Bring them back together to train and to learn from each other. To learn to dance and sing and fight and cry and rage and to love. To be truly, beautifully and powerfully whatever we Men are, because the world at this moment in history is increasingly lost without us.
And so the quest begins, to search the hidden vales and emerald forests of my heart, to find that forgotten lake and take back what is mine, my sword, my soul, my beautiful awesome power as a normal average guy making his way in this world. If I don’t, then who’s going to help the generations of Men behind me how to find theirs?...
“Just as many have walked the path of the One. The One has walked the path of many”
~ by Christopher Noble, September 2019