Broken, Beat, and Scarred*
I do not have profound thoughts to share, other than the sickening metaphor of a friar tortured in the Middle Ages; one of the first men in history to raise his fist in the air in the land of hypocrisy.
The Italian martyr Savonarola was tortured in a machine called the “strappado.” It’s a very cruel instrument used against criminals to get them to confess. Perhaps it’s popular now in S&M circles, but history has it on good account that this object was an instrument of torture.
Savonarola was tied by his left hand by ropes and leather straps, suspended on the rack-like device. He was repeatedly and methodically raised and jerked down to get him to retract everything he said about the evils and corruption of the Papacy, as he did with his preaching. It may seem like an amusement park ride – the medieval form of Enchanted Kingdom, only disenchanted and without wizard mascots – yet the device was able to get him to sign the confession.
You could imagine the agony of Savonarola; raised by his hand and its fingers, the joints hyperextended and flexed beyond its limits. The locks are then released from the wheel, and he plummeted… with only his bound hand saving him. Just before he collapses into the marble walks of the city of Florence, the locks in the wheel were engaged again, and Savonarola is saved – and tortured – by his bound hand.
Imagine the pain that radiated from his fingertips to his knuckles. Every bone in his wrist was pulverized, the skin cut through by the straps, ropes, and chains. The tendons and ligaments of his elbows were ready to snap, if not that they already had. His one shoulder dislocated from its socket, shredded from bearing his full weight in the strappado. Mutilated, battered… broken, beat, and scarred.
The very man who hangs there like a piece of meat had a voice that echoed through the very souls of the laity that crowded the Church of San Marco, preaching against the excesses and the vanity of a corrupt Borgia masquerading as a Pope. The murals of the masters lay silent, mute witnesses for the man who scaled the pulpit on mornings of worship, and preached not from the parchment leaves of Bibles, or sermons not heard from the tired old homilies of aging men of the cloth, but from rage and anger… from the belief that there is right and wrong, and that his Church stands for the former, and that his Church stands because of the latter.
All the while, the friar hung like a pendelum of flesh and bone, passing out from the pain and yet awakened by it. Screaming… wailing… strapped to a machine of nothing more than a wooden wheel, rough ropes, chains, crude pulleys, and leather straps.
“I confess!” he wails. “I confess to the truth!”
My thoughts today are a bit cluttered. Thoughts in chaos, as they say. Maybe it’s stress, or maybe lots of things about my view of the world have changed faster in two weeks than it ever will in two years. Maybe I haven’t been putting in my eight hours of sleep. Maybe I haven’t partied, chilled out, or at the very least, relaxed.
Maybe I locked myself up in my own strappado, and in a very uncharacteristically emo way, tortured my own soul.
Sometimes I think that I pushed the limits a bit too far this time. There’s the physical pain that comes from writing, and then there’s exhaustion. It’s when things start to go against you that you figure out how exactly you got in there, and the way back is just way too far from where you already are. When all the realizations come, you’re too tired to even think of it anymore. Like the very flames that burned Savonarola after his torture, you allow yourself to just get burned in the blaze that’s lit under you.
Whether you die or just vanish into a pile of ashes really doesn’t matter. It means the same thing.
Sometimes I wish I could just think and live like everyone else my age, where there are parties, weekends out, and things that have nothing to do with building up a career, working your ass off, and doing something that you think is good for society. I’ve always justified things this way: what I’m doing may not be enough, but it is more than enough considering what others do. It sometimes borders on smugness or arrogance, stopping short of saying that this world is becoming a better place because of something so simple which now turns into a heroic act of martyrdom for others.
That is simply not the case, sometimes; these past few hours made me think that a lot of the things I do, and a lot of the things I believe in, have actually distorted my view of the world. In preaching openness, I’ve become more closed. In preaching resistance, I’ve become more inflexible. In more ways than one, every count of sincerity in a human being is always offset by a count of hypocrisy. It’s a one-to-one correspondence.
More than that, I think that the more I get angered or slighted by every single social or political or economic issue and try to do something about it, the more I do nothing about it. The thought of that possibility is something that angers and slights me even more, and lifts me one inch higher in the strappado I put myself in. Not that I want to stare at riot shields ever again, but there aren’t too many welcome respites that came my way this week.
Another inch, they all say, up the pulleys and wheels of the strappado I turn, lock, and hoist for myself.
My only hope is that I can forgive myself for committing a kind of sick , despicable torture upon myself. To turn the wheel as slowly as I can, to get back on my own two feet, and remove myself from the shackles of my own strappado… and realize that all this will pass.
In time. Not now.
Breaking your teeth on the high life, are you coming?
Show your scars
Cutting your feet on the hard earth running
Show your scars
Breaking your life and broken, beat, and scarred…
But we die hard.
– Metallica, “Broken, Beat, and Scarred”