When I was younger, I was a member of the Girls’ Brigade, a Christian version of Brownies or Scouts.
On Anzac Day at our school, everyone was allowed to wear the uniforms for out-of-school things they belonged to, like Cubs, Scouts, or Brownies, and I was always the only person in a Girls’ Brigade uniform. It was blue, with a kind of French military style hat. I would look around and see a sea of browns and greens. Kids would count the people wearing different uniforms, and they’d say, “There are 10 Cubs, 8 Brownies and one blue girl”; a kind of microcosm for a lot of things about my childhood in a way, but anyway I digress.
Part of the Girls’ Brigade or Brownies or Scouts experience is getting badges; badges for things like cooking, lighting a campfire, going camping, or doing hair. I might be making that last one up, although we did have hair washing classes once.
Back in the day at Girls’ Brigade, we got badges for things like learning all the books of the Bible by heart. To be honest, that’s the only one I can remember, but I did learn all the books of the Bible off by heart and was then asked to recite them from the stage at my local church. Life skills. I didn’t continue with Girls’ Brigade past primary school so I don’t know what sort of badges we would have moved up to if I had.
There’s another kind of badge I’ve received in my life: tattoos. A dear friend of mine once noted that people often get tattoos as a way of marking an occasion, memorialising something, or as a badge of honour. At the time I thought he was wrong. I thought I just got my tattoos because of things I liked, but in hindsight, I think he is right. At least as it relates to me. Each tattoo refers to a time of life, an experience, something to which I aspire.
The ship on my hip speaks of a desire for adventure and says something about the way my husband and I choose to live. The cat on my inner forearm marks the death of a very dear friend. The word ‘grace’ written on my hand in Chinese characters reminds me of who I am.
Not everybody gets tattoos, but everybody wears some kind of badges all the same.
We learn things from life; relational skills, love skills, toughening up skills, and sometimes we hold onto these things; hold them dear, hold them dearer than anything else until they stick, as a badge.
A person who overcomes severe bullying may forever wear a badge of resilience, or may forever wear a badge of bitterness, or a badge of pain. For me, different events in my life caused me to become hurt and disillusioned about life, about people, about God, about the nature of our existence in this world, and I’m realising only now how much I’ve turned those things into a badge of hardness.
I guess there are different ways I could have responded and different ways people do respond to similar situations or situations. In my case, hardness was and is the badge I wear. I put it on as a child, and things that used to hurt, didn’t hurt anymore. I put it on as a teenager and learned to smile through the storm. I put it on again as an adult and then ain’t no bad guy’s going to touch me. But then it’s like the Matrix or some movie where someone puts something on and it morphs into their being. The ‘garment’ they put on becomes one with them, and then they can’t get it off. I can’t get it off.
The badge of hardness is like a tattoo on my soul, and I don’t want it off. It’s the tattoo that has enabled me to live my life with relative peace and calm, pretty much protected from the outside, but not protected from the inside. As it turns out, the bad guy is me, and self-hate manages to fly under the radar of the badge of hardness.
Now I have a baby. He is the most beautiful being of light I’ve ever seen. He smiles, and the world is wonderful again. And he wears no badge. And I realised that me wearing my badge affects him and how he turns out, and which badge he ends up wearing. Now I want with all my heart and soul to take this badge off – this badge of hardness – pull it out, and replace it with a badge of love.
I think you can get that one by getting through all the bad stuff and all the hard stuff and coming out and choosing to see that we can be loved, that we are loved, and then choosing to love ourselves. You know, even if I didn’t have my baby, that badge of hardness is killing me, suffocating any joy that I had in life. I know that now.
Today, I reckon that I’m going to choose to pray for help to hope. I’ve never been able to do it up until now, but I pray that God would remove it, this badge of hardness that protects me from living, and then maybe I can be free; free to love my baby, free to love my friends, free to love myself.
It’s a big ask, I know.
I’ll let you know how it goes.