I motioned for him to say goodbye again, reached out to shake his hand but at the last minute hooked my fingertips on to his and pulled him in. I kissed him on the cheek when he didn’t expect it, but he had leaned easily forward for the peck, his own fingertips hooking back. The Tin Man feels.
The second, as I grew to know him, I realized his dreams of the life he’d eventually want to lead, with the kind of person he decided would suit him the best for a long and successful marriage had in fact, some obstacles to overcome. But as with the Tin Man of legend, he is just as determined and stubborn. Just as untiring.
The irony of this character is that he is in fact, the most tender and heart driven of all of Dorothy’s companions in Oz. He laments for a heart, when he never completely lost his. But it can be pretty convincing when most of you is made of metal.
The ax, of course a metaphor for every distraction we engage in to convince ourselves to feel less. Whether the distraction is a person, place or thing. We think it occupies time, provides some entertainment, but it chops us down little by little. Takes a bit of ourselves away without our realizing it.
Our energy, our goodness, our ability to believe.
While my own Tin Man is neither heartless nor so doomed, there are echoes of that with him. While incredibly logical and stoic for that matter, he is profoundly feeling and instinctual by nature. He manages his emotions to calmness, though I sometimes argue there are heart storms meant to help change and grow him. Meant perhaps to reduce the dry coldness that can come of entirely analyzed decisions and outcomes.
I stand corrected though, and ought not to assume he doesn’t weather them. He does, but rarely shows it, which leads me to the third and last reason.
It also taught us both that face-to-face physical expression makes such a difference in such sensitive topics..obviously at the cost of him tiring of lengthy audible conversations and my being accused of being Le Vague Mouth.
Though much later, our arguments softened, he was able to explain to me patiently and honestly, why this was difficult. Difficult, he said, not impossible. He understood emotional openness but didn’t like weakness itself. In time, he told me this without the air of throwing down a gauntlet though he had at first and I’d reacted badly to it. In time, I myself had softened from the anger this loss of vulnerability creates, how it bleeds away authenticity and dulls down our responsiveness.
Why the anger? Because I too, have felt what it's like to be made of Tin. Though in many ways I may be far more progressed in the loss of the real feeling limbs and heart department. I live self-sufficiently enough on a daily basis, away from family. But it’s never escaped me that living, in fact the essence of humanity is about the play between our individualism and inter-dependence with each other. If it weren’t, then we’d all be happy being alone in a vacuum.
The issue isn’t whether or not we can survive alone because we know we can – it’s whether or not we can thrive. Thriving is predicated on connection, and connection on vulnerability and trust.
I quickly realized from the Tin Man that the term “vulnerability” raises all sorts of clenching in men, whom all their lives have been trained to be NOT that. I’d been blind to this when we tussled over it initially, not thinking of how many more barriers there are for men when we ask them for something like this.
In my own way, I’d been too intent. At first, I mistook it for semantics. Isn’t emotional openness the same as vulnerability? Not always in a man’s book.
It isn’t just about saying I’m sad, or happy to them. They can do that too. Instead, it presents a real movement to disarm themselves when everyday they live their lives prepared for a war. Geared towards a purpose. Being vulnerable strikes right at the heart of what expectations there are of men.
I’m always surprised at how keenly aware they are of this, and how much our perceptions of them weigh in. In Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, she writes of her encounter with an older gentleman who’d approached her after a lecture on shame. He’d asked her what she knew of shame in men, and she’d replied at the time that she only studied women.
He thought it was “convenient” and when asked why, he revealed an oppressive truth, “My wife and daughters – the one’s you signed all those books for – they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but c’mon. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that.” In short, men live with one constant and relentless edict: Do Not Be Weak. Ever.
I could also add to that, the corollary unspoken command of, “Always Win, Never Fail”. These are so deeply ingrained in men that their awareness quickly identifies the smallest pinpricks that run against these, and like any good operating system, acts to decimate them. The Tin Man would tolerate no such things, and so upon the argument of vulnerability we fell.
He’d even topped it all off by saying he technically “dated” himself, which I’ve now discovered is a concept popular in quite a few dating/coaching blogs. Don’t get me wrong it has some merit. But to me, it hardly speaks to the epic mysteries and adventures that underlie our chosen couplings. You don’t partner up to be so self-contained. That’s just a defensive position rather than a powerful one.
No amount of flow-charting data crunching analysis can ever yield the perfect equation. With all reason taken into account, you know, checking on your potential’s grid of fiscal, emotional, physical and mental health, and asking the right questions, life still manages to throw you curve balls.
This seems an unusual tangent in writing about the Tin Man, but knowing him has only furthered my soliloquy on how love can be confounding, yet so undeniably necessary. How the choices we make about it speak of even the things we can’t verbalize. What we believe, what makes us tick, what combination of things create feelings in us for one and yet not for another, and how much of that do we allow.
Which leaps do we make, and which hearts do we let lay fallow.
I see a lot of myself in him. There are people like that, whom despite being so far flung in origin and background, in approach and orientation, provide words to the sentences we can’t seem to finish. You feel them belong to you, in the half-light world where nothing else matters. Though you may handle things differently, you share parts of the same nature, the same twinges of pain. You’re iterations of the same wave, kissing the shore in each your own way.
There was a point when I looked at him thinking I could no more solve the years I’d lived before him, than he could his deafness. An impairment of years and ears combined. Yet, we were gripped with the same dilemma, what Wizard would grant each of us the right heart?
Still, there is a cost to the armor. And apparently the Egyptians knew this when they crafted their belief of their underworld, where a heart’s destiny was determined by its weight against the Feather of the Goddess Maat. The mythology goes that if the heart were lighter, then it would achieve a peaceful after life. If not, it would be devoured and the owner condemned to restless wandering in the perpetual loss of such shadowed lands.
That’s pretty graphic and messed up. But like it or not, to me this all points to a lightness only possible with a certain surrender.
Love isn’t a destination - it’s a mode of transport with weight restrictions. It will take you to less than ideal places, into detours and dead ends, but it will, if you let it, make you a worthy traveler, capable of being present and happy in whatever circumstance.