The heroine

The Unseen Collection
Warp: hand painted Egyptian cotton
Weft: lyocell (tencel) in a warm golden shade
Size 5+ (about 430 cm x 71 cm STIH)
About 378 g / m2
Blunt ends
Woven in a fancy twill with faux crackle elements with a starry pattern
Plainweave selvedges
Simple tactile middle markers

"She understood
who she was

and whose
she was."

- Elaine S. Dalton

 

 

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Who are you?

I mean it as a serious question.
If you would be given just ten words to describe yourself, what would you choose?
What about five words?
Three?

One?

Who are you?

I wonder if there even is a more important question in life. Maybe not. The amount of self help books in the stores testify to it. The question about our identity, the so-called “true self”, defines so much about our lives. Our languages have many signs of it. We can say that we, for example, have “found ourselves” or “lost ourselves” or “are looking for ourselves”. Almost like our “self” was something separate from us; something we could lose along the way, and should occasionally go back to fetch.

What if that actually is the case?

I’ve been challenged by that very question: if I had to define myself in, say, five words, what would I say? What are the things that really define me? What is the most profound truth about me? It’s a revealing test. Awkward. And serious.

The thing is we are told so many things about ourselves that knowing the truth may be hard. It starts the day we are born, and it keeps going on day after day. As our story unfolds and as the book of our lives is written, a narrative starts to form. There is this narrator’s voice in the background, explaining what happened and why, and what it all means. Do you recognise it? There is this something that seems to be rather separate from our own hearts that speaks to us about our lives. An “inner voice”, if you wish. When we do well, the narrator congratulates us. When we fail, the narrator has again something to say. And so on.

Some people have healthy narrators. Their inner voice is steady and reliable, and keeps in tune with the truth. Some of us, on the other hand, have narrators that are not good for us. For some of us the voice inside of us has become untrustworthy, possibly even malignant. At some point the narrative of our life has been stolen from us, and someone else has started to tell the story.

There are so many voices speaking to us. So many people in our lives with their opinions on us. Then there’s the media, the common voice, saying things about us too. We’re bombarded with a storm of voices each day of our lives, and we simply cannot shut them all out. There are good voices, the ones that say we are lovely, worthy, unique, loved, cherished. But then there are the harmful voices too, the ones who simply hurt us.

The scariest and most dangerous thing is that telling these voices apart is sometimes hard. You’d think that you could simply turn your back to a voice that hurts you and scolds you, reject the words as lies, and go listen to someone who loves you. Some people can. But then some of us don’t know anymore which voice is true. We may simply suck in the scolding of our narrator because we think the story he or she tells is true of us.

The end result is that then we end up living in a story that doesn’t really speak about us, but of this mock character we’ve been turned into. We lose our own story, when we’re constantly told the wrong one. 

It might be an abusive relationship with someone. A parent who just takes their bitterness on a child. Or a so-called lover who turns out to have narcissistic tendencies. Or bullying in school. Or then just our own tendency to compare ourselves to others so long that the voice in our heads says we’re ugly, stupid, fat and forever unlovable. Even a malignant voice becomes hard to leave behind when it’s all we know. To risk the complete unknown feels maybe even harder, and so we stay and listen to the hurting voices.

It might be that the real moment of birth for anyone of us is when we start recognising the voices. Is this my heart speaking? If not, then whose voice is this? What is the voice telling me, and is it actually true? 

It is possible to take back our own narrative, to wrestle our own story back to our hands. Most likely all of us need that in some way; most likely we all have believed lies about ourselves. Most likely it’ll be hard for everyone to fight the battle. It’ll be hard to endure the silence when the voices are gone. It might take long to start hearing the real, true words; the heart might take a long time to find its own courage and voice.

It’ll be worth it, though. Then we can start telling the story ourselves. We can choose what we listen to. We won’t be told who we are anymore, we’ll know it ourselves. It is quite a different thing to be the slave in the story, or the heroine of the story. We either lose life or gain life. It’s true that if we fight to be the heroines life might turn difficult in other ways; the slave is told what to do, and life has certain routines - even if they are abusive and horrendous. The heroine risks the unknown, and she’ll face new challenges and responsibilities. But she’ll be choosing them herself.

What was hard for me to learn was that we also need voices. I cannot be self-sufficient. I need to let some voices in. I need to learn to rely on some of them. I cannot shut all of them out to protect myself. “If there’s any hope for love at all / some walls / must fall”, sing Peter, Paul and Mary in the old classic. 

Choosing those voices is tricky. But they’re there. There’s a loving voice for everyone.
We just need to find the ones that make us heroines.

A mother.
A wife. 
A daughter.
A friend.
A child of God.

That would be my five words; the five voices that tell me the truth about me.