standing in an arsenal

IMG_0713In Celje, we climbed the stairs of the arsenal–walls 3 meters deep. We stood at the top and looked across at the castle, where Veronika somebody and Fredrick somebody did something something. My friends told me the story of star-crossed lovers, but I couldn’t concentrate.

I was thinking about what it meant to stand in an arsenal.

The castle at Celje was the most beautiful one I’d seen. “This place is special,” I said to my friends. We’d just come from the high school, I. gimnazija v Celju, where I’d been asked to speak to students about the cultural experience I’ve had in Slovenia and about my Fulbright writing project.

One of the things we talked about, in relation to writing, was opening yourself wide open in response to pain. The students were extremely attentive. They were just a little younger than my own children. I knew that they must have all experienced pain in one form or another. I’d tried so hard to shield my children from suffering of any kind, but I couldn’t do it. Because life happens. I could only love them, teach them to be human, tolerant of others, tolerant of themselves–and to know that the only way out of their pain is into it. There’s no way to dodge it. My story of heartache is just a small story. My husband died peacefully in a beautiful house surrounded by love. My husband wasn’t murdered in hatred. But still, I was angry when he died. I was in pain. Opening yourself, and remaining open, takes work.

I looked up the story of Veronika Desinška when I got home from Celje. In the early 1400’s, Fredrick II, Count of Celje, was deeply in love with Veronika from Croatia, but she was of minor nobility and Fredrik’s father was opposed to the marriage. Veronika and Fredrick managed to elope but when Fredrick’s father found out, he imprisoned his son in a tower for four years. He then tried to imprison Veronika by claiming she was a witch who had cast a spell over his son, but the judges decided that Veronika was innocent and let her go. As soon as they were out of sight, Fredrick’s father had Veronika murdered–drowned in the castle well.

As I climbed the stairs of the arsenal at the castle in Celje yesterday, I wasn’t wondering who was saved and who was killed by weapons in this particular arsenal, at this particular castle, nor was I thinking about any other castles. No. I was thinking about the arsenals we allow modern day individuals to build and draw their weapons from. And then I thought about myself. I wondered about my own arsenal. I looked through carved out windows. How many meters deep is my stone wall? And, if I let it continue to stand, why?

Open, I thought to myself, and open again. And open further still.

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