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September 15, 2011

One Man’s Life: Tempered Like the Perfect Blade

Awhile back, I commented in an email to my friend “E” about how amazing it is to me that he has been able to look beyond the difficulties of his life to the overall integrity and beauty of the larger picture (he experienced a brutal upbringing in many ways). I also chose, in my communique, to compare E’s journey to the process of firing and tempering steel that occurs before the creation of the perfect blade of a sword. That analogy just popped into my mind with no pre-thought as to what I was going to write - my not being really big on swords or blades. A few hours after sending that email, I picked up the novel I had purchased in the airport while waiting for a delayed flight. Soon, I came to this passage:

The steel arrives in my workshop and I have to transform it into parts for cars, agricultural machinery, kitchen utensils...First, I heat the metal until it's red-hot, then I beat it mercilessly with my heaviest hammer until the metal takes on the form I need. Then I plunge it into a bucket of cold water and the whole workshop is filled with the roar of steam while the metal sizzles and crackles in response to the sudden change in temperature. I have to keep repeating that process until the object I'm making is perfect: once is not enough. Sometimes the steel I get simply can't withstand such treatment. The heat, the hammer blows, the cold water cause it to crack. And I know that I'll never be able to make it into a good plowshare or an engine shaft. Then I throw it on the pile of scrap metal at the entrance to my forge. I know that God is putting me through the fire of afflictions. I've accepted the blows that life has dealt me, and sometimes I feel as cold and indifferent as the water that inflicts such pain on the steel. But my one prayer is this: Please, God, my Mother, don't give up until I've taken on the shape that you wish for me. Do this by whatever means you think best, for as long as you like, but never ever throw me on the scrap heap of souls. Paulo Coehlo in “The Witch of Portobello”

“Wow!” I thought, “That was a quick confirmation of what I just wrote to E!” So, I sent the above passage to him along with some of the background information in the book leading up to it. I later found out that the words held more meaning for E than I even knew when I sent the passage - for a couple of reasons. The obvious reason being that I had just compared his own difficult life-journey to the forging of steel. But, I was surprised to also find out that for some time E had held in mind the vision of a power symbol for his life: a perfect Samaria sword. Added to these synchronicities, was the fact that the person doing the talking in the passage had a spiritual mentor whom he called the Protector,, and E informed me that he, too, has a spiritual guide who appeared to him for the first time in a vision when he was 10 years old. This guide calls himself – you guessed it! - the Protector. And as if that wasn’t enough meaningful coincidences for me to process, E revealed that, like the person in the book, who eventually changed his profession from one that brought him no joy to the fulfilling art of blacksmithing, he had also wanted to try his hand at blacksmithing for quite some time!

So, where has all this synchronicity work led us? For me it leads to the joy of knowing that the universe is continually providing support for me and through me in a myriad of ways, and that it is always a choice whether or not to open to such gifts of grace as they are given. I remember in the airport that something convinced me to choose that particular book even though I rarely read fiction and have turned down opportunities in the past to read Coelho’s more popular book. Also, why did I say “sword” instead of tool or utensil when writing about tempering steel in the first email I sent? For E, our exchange was meaningful because he was supported in his inner knowing that what has happened in his life has a deeper meaning and has contributed to making him strong like the Samaria blade of his vision. It also supports him in continuing to live his life in ways that preclude succumbing to the bitterness that might “crack” his spirit.

That’s all the confirmation I need to continue to pursue the meaningful symbols and metaphors this  life continually offers up to my own eager spirit!

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