Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Heart's Field of Battle

(Commissioned Work)

I woke up one beautiful morning last week with the intention of casting away any negativity.  I realized that, try as I might to be open to every emotion - to push myself to face the less-than-pleasant emotions that cascade on me, (you know the ones), take them in and learn - I still stood behind a ballast of walls and protective battlements designed to safeguard me against the fears which seem to govern us all.

At this point, I was reminded of a song I'd heard many, (many), years ago.  The artist had just left a world-famous group named The Police.  Sting, front man for the band for several years, had made the fateful decision to walk away from the fame he'd created and secured for himself with the platinum-record group and struck out on his own.  In '85 he was sitting in a studio, happy to be on his own venture, when a few people passed by without noticing him.

Please understand that this is Sting we're talking about... The Sting!  A multitude of hits.  Fancy cars to drive.  Limos when he doesn't feel like driving.  You name it.  Sting.

Yet, these young upwardly-mobile urban professionals passed him as he was walking into a music studio without so much as a double-take.  Sting was, perhaps, relieved.  He might be happy that, at least in that moment, he could breathe easy and enjoy some anonymity.  He says it only surprised him that he didn't have to rush into the studio to avoid a crowd.

That very afternoon, Sting wrote a song called Fortress Around Your Heart.  He'd been working with some chords which reminded him of a medieval song.  That is where he got the imagery for Fortress.  The idea for the music video came to him while he was recounting his anonymous moment for some friends, but you'll see that when you look the video up later, (don't pretend that you're not already making a mental note).

With that in mind, we hear Fortress Around Your Heart, with its medieval tempo and smooth-staccato beat and we can, by the title of the song, begin our meditation on its meaning...

Seems like a slam-dunk, right?  A relationship has gone bad, this much is obvious, however we could say that about 87% of the songs on the market at that time.  I listened to the song repeatedly, as I am prone to do, and I allowed the emotional impact of the song to wash over me.  I listened. I let the artist take me on the shared vision of the song, and I found that the prose spoke to a  much deeper sense than just another bad breakup.

In the opening verse, the author presents us with a bleak scene -  a walled city, besieged and battered, still defends its lands:

Under the ruins of a walled cityCrumbling towers and beams of yellow lightNo flags of truce, no cries of pity,The siege guns had been pounding all through the night. (V1, L1-4)

It becomes clear that the woman he writes about is within this walled city.  She works tirelessly, toiling perpetually to keep the ballast in place so as to protect the lands.  Sting continues the first verse:

It took a day to build this city.We walked through its streets in the afternoon. (V1, L5-6) 
So, the author, from the perspective of the man in the relationship, explains to the audience while appearing to remind his love that they had worked together to build the city.  He is, it seems, acting as we all have at one time in our lives - during what appears to be the breakup, he reminisces, reminding her of the day the walls went up.  Perhaps he is explaining his side of things and apologizing.  He also turns to the audience and narrates:

As I returned across the lands I'd knownI recognized the fields where I'd once played. (V1,L6-7)

  Here the artist pulls us in.  He gives us a chance not only to peek into the scene, but to get the entire picture of the town - to, in essence, reminisce with him about lost opportunities.  He gently but forcefully places his forearm in our path to stop us.  His eyes narrow as he looks, confused and frightened at the field:

I had to stop in my tracks for fear
Of walking on the mines I'd laid. (V1, L8-9)

We've been there, haven't we?  There we are, pleading our case, feeling ourselves gaining forward momentum...

That's when we step on a land mine... one we laid.

We have very little time for reflection on the field before the artist spins us around to look at the walls, the moat, the deep trenches adorned with battle armor and protective wire.

And if I built this fortress around your heart;Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,Then let me build a bridge,For I cannot fill the chasm,And let me set the battlements on fire.(Chorus)
We see here, in the chorus, a clear picture of the history behind the rubble-strewn wasteland of the woman's heart.  The author has, by admission, hurt her in the past.  We find this in the if line: "and if I built this fortress around your heart".  He looks into her eyes and sees the hurt.  Without hesitation the author admits he helped build the walls, helped to dig the trenches and lay the wire.

Through whatever means he hurt her, he has caused her to fortify her hearts defenses against future pain.

Future pain... those words carry with them a cold shiver.

He sees this and asks the lady's permission to set the battlements on fire.  We are reminded of numerous pleadings, (whether ours or someone we had the unpleasant opportunity to hear or watch), in the past.  The phrase; "Please give me one more chance" rings in our ears.  We cringe.  Yes, we've been there, in our adolescent fumblings with relationships; in early adulthood when we 'thought we had it all'... even later in life when we 'just can't see how it came to this.'  We can't see from our puny perspective the entire picture.  We can't see from that position that the end could be the beginning.  We can't understand how friends and family can, as encouragement, say 'it will get better in time.'

No one seems to understand the desperation...

The author lets us in on the reasoning behind some of the defenses in the second verse:

Then I went off to fight some battle,
That I'd invented inside my head.Away so long for years and years,You probably thought or even wished that I was dead.While the armies are all sleepingBeneath the tattered flag we'd made. (V2, L1-6)

We hear the author's excuse and admission.  We know that he had left, gone on a tangent, perhaps, fighting with himself over some imagined wrongdoing or perceived insult.  In my travels I've spoken with many wandering, lost souls fresh from the purgatory of breakup.  The larger percentage of the wanderers admit that the problem was 'in their own head'... or 'made up'. ..

Meanwhile, the armies recruited to safeguard the heart of the lady have a chance to rest - the fortress can be shored up - the heart gets harder with each second that passes, until it resembles an inanimate object barely capable of  sustaining emotional life.  It is protected, yes.  It is prepared to ward off pain, absolutely.

Is it happy?  Can the soul devoid of feeling ever be satiated?

The third verse lets us in on the present condition as the author sees it:

This prison has now become your home,
A sentence you seem prepared to pay. (V3, L1-2)

The author sees, sadly, the end result of his machinations during the relationship.  He has hurt her deeply and often enough that she is prepared never to love again, so long as it means no more pain.  He finishes with one more indulgence of memory before closing with the chorus:

It took a day to build this cityWe walked through its streets in the afternoon.As I returned across the lands I'd knownI recognized the fields where I'd once played.Had to stop in my tracks for fearOf walking on the mines I'd laid." (V3, L3-8)

You will recognize this passage from the first verse.  This time, however, it hints of something different...


The artist now understands the situation.  He realizes the impact of his folly.  The memory now has tears in its wake.  It sounds like a final look back.

How many of us, if we are open to the question, would say that we have, at one time or another, been in this 'last gasp' area of a relationship - the final fight... or the tearful goodbye?  You're nodding your head slowly...  it's a tough place to be.  The song really spoke to teens.  This isn't surprising, as the adolescent years are when our initial walls begin to go up.

Maybe just a foundation, a turret or two if we've been burned badly.  Later, as relationships take on a deeper tone, we begin, brick by brick, to establish the trenches, battlements and armies we need to protect our heart from that one pain we cannot fathom... the pain that reaches too deep to numb... the agony that comes from our very core and radiates outward to leave indelible marks on our entire lives.  Ask anyone which pain they'd choose: physical or emotional... if they're honest they'll choose physical every time.

So, we construct walls with the intention of protection - without fail they turn into walls of penitent, imprisoning us - locking us away from the opportunity to really feel things, to experience even the baser emotions... these walls hold us back from surrendering to the one emotion which, in my estimation, makes we, the citizens of the third planet from the sun, human... love.  

As humans, we define 'feeling good' as 'an absence of pain'.  If we rely on that empty and cold definition of joy, then we deprive ourselves of that one emotion which defines us:  Love...

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage."
                                                                                                              -Lao Tzu

 R. Henson