Strength VIII

April 17th, 2024

Strength VIII
By Bonnie Tarantino

In the strength card of the tarot deck that I prefer, there is a powerful woman with one foot in a pond and the other kneeling on the earth.  She stands naked in a warrior-type pose, holding a large snake in her hands as if deciding if she will fling the snake or wrap it around her like a shawl.  She is fearless and confident, completely ready and open.   The strength card in the tarot is almost always a woman and often is seen walking alongside a golden Lion, who is her companion and devotee.  They walk in unison with a flower garland wrapped around them, holding them in psych.  A woman is often depicted in the Strength tarot card because of her ability to bear the pain of childbirth. But beyond that we all have in us a powerful force that we must learn to tame and understand before we can truly access our innate gifts of manifestation. The way we are tested to tame this power varies, but we are all tested.

I have a dear childhood friend who came off heroin cold turkey at age 25 after using and loving drugs for over ten years.  Around that time, I would have recurring dreams of needles going into someone’s arms in a dark and dirty back alley; I would wake in a cold sweat.  To this day, I can’t watch scenes in movies where people are shooting up. She now has a beautiful family and an incredible career, and she never went back to that dark alley again. I have not had that dream since the day she came out of rehab.

Another friend’s 8-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver.  For months, she prayed for God to take her life and begged Jesus to give her just one breath that did not feel like broken glass in her lungs.  One night, he answered her prayers in a cascade of warm, brilliant light.  There, she floated pain-free for several breaths, and this gave her the strength to get up the next morning and make breakfast for the son she still had. She followed that lightness to Reiki training, which led her to my yoga studio in Storrs, Connecticut.  Since then, this warm glow has turned into a sound healing gift.  This Sunday she will fill the barn with this great love and strength.  I hope you will join us.

My mother desperately needed to nap in the afternoons.  As the oldest, I would come home from school first before my other three siblings. Quietly I would enter the dark room, bringing with me tea and sometimes a flower I picked on the way home.  Gently, I would open the blinds just a bit, crack the window just enough, and sit on her bed.  Softly, I would whisper her name, take her hand, and tell her about my day till the depression slipped out the crack in the window just enough to free her arms and legs from their infant pose.  She would always thank me and apologize for how far she had gone away. Then she would get up, go in the bathroom, get herself together, and come down and be our mom again.

I have a father who chooses sobriety every day.  When I was 26, he asked to meet up with me.  I was living in NYC at the time, and he worked in midtown.  He made his way up to my east side apartment and sat on my brand-new Jennifer Comfortable green couch. He asked for forgiveness for any harm he had caused.  I had one request. “Just help Mom.”  He has been sober for over 32 years now, and his sobriety was the turning point in my mother’s mental health.

My brother, at 22, announced to me that he was bisexual by telling me he was not sure if he was bringing a man or a woman to my wedding.   We sat in Central Park people-watching, and I wondered how it would feel to be open to all possibilities of love.  Taking his hand, I breathed a deep exhale, knowing that he was finally on his path.  I decided right then and there that he was an expansion of love, and felt deeply that he would be alright, that the truth of his being would bring him great love. He opted not to bring a date to my wedding, saying it was my day and not the right time to come out to our Irish Catholic extended family.  He found his husband just a few years later and is with him still.

My younger sister found herself pregnant at 19.  On her way to get an abortion, she turned around and instead got a plane to Italy to be an au pair.  9 years older than her and married, I, too, was pregnant with my first child.  She kept her secret for months in part because she wanted the family to enjoy the news of my pregnancy.  When I went into labor, she and my parents came rushing down to be with us.  While waiting for me, her water broke on my Jennifer comfortable green chair and half.  We birthed our daughters the same day of the same year moving beyond just sisterhood and into motherhood hand in hand.  We have walked side by side ever since.

I have several friends who woke up one day to their husbands beating hearts next to them. But by the end of the day, those same hearts had stopped beating despite desperate attempts to bring them back. I have watched for years how these women have held their own broken hearts as gently as they could in hands that had to keep moving in order to take care of their children and rebuild their lives.

I have another friend whose mother, desperate to survive and provide, lived with her sister and rich husband.  Daily from the age of 6, she and her mother endured living as sex slaves to this man. At age 15, she escaped across the border to America.  Tirelessly, she built a business, became a citizen, raised three children, and now has a son who is a lawyer who specializes in immigration law.

This is the kind of strength that is born out of raging fire and adversity.  This is grabbing the largest snake in the pond and turning it into an infinity belt around your waist while keeping it alive.  This is making a Lion your trusted companion. This is the strength we realize we have that no one expected was there, not even us.  This is the strength that is born right alongside our destiny with deep DNA that unravels like magic right at the climax of our lives.

My journey toward strength has been a quieter, more observant path.

When I was young, my parents knew this wonderful couple from church. They were about ten years older.  We called them Aunt Ro and Uncle Nick, and, in many ways, they were what I dreamed an Aunt and Uncle should be.  Sometimes, they would have us over for brunch after church.  With their kids mostly grown, they spoiled us with hugs and kisses and little treats they would find and save till they saw us again.   They told us repeatedly how much they loved us.  They were both first-generation Italians, and their home smelled warm and safe and of garlic and basil and something breaded and fried.  Everywhere in the kitchen were bright bowls of fruits and vegetables fresh from the garden.  They even had a fig tree.

All four of their children looked like they just came off the stage of an Aerosmith concert. It was the 70’s and they were wild and worried my Aunt Ro to her knees in prayer.  The youngest, John, was around 15 and oozing with an “I am the youngest and can do whatever I want” adolescent confidence.  This one summer Sunday, he came into the house barefoot with his shirt off and cut-off jean shorts.  He had dark hair, dark, mischievous, playful eyes, and was so tan, with eyes and teeth so white that I will never forget the flush I felt. At age 10 I knew that I really liked boys.  Around his neck was a yellow boa constrictor.  My aunt began screaming, waving her dish towel, “Get that evil thing out of here!”  He truly didn’t hear or care.  Wanting to impress him, I agreed to allow the boa to be placed on my small neck.  The weight of it was astounding.  I thought it would be slimy, but instead, it was smooth.  It began to move slowly. I screamed and tensed.  John put one hand on my back and the other over the boa and told me to relax. He really wanted me to feel its beauty. Feel what he felt. The combination of the Boa and his touch was too much.  I constricted more, the boa constricted more.  I felt its sheer power.  Crying now, my mother yelled for him to get it off me.  John grabbed hold of the boa, and the boa released fast and fell belly up on the floor, slithering away with John after it. My Aunt Ro, yelling her head off, rushed over to hug me tight to her stained apron, waving little prayers and blessings over my head.

And looking back the sensual symbology of this moment is astounding.  There I stood on the threshold of my own adolescence with this young, beautiful boy, very comfortable in his body and self, holding a large, dangerous animal without fear. He offered me this power.  Placed it like a garland around my neck and trusted that I could handle it. And all of this taking place in a kitchen where women rule supreme with smells of oil and garlic and freshly baked bread.

But I was not ready to hold that in my hands.  Not ready to claim the power of my womanhood.  I constricted.  It was not time.  And while I never again had any interest in taming a snake, I knew I would one day tame a John.

And that is what gets activated in the strength card.  A wild and clear desire to control the natural forces in and around us and make them beholden.  A knowing that we have what we need innately in us and that we can call upon it any time.  Our ability to get quiet and still enough to see and grab hold of what lies deep in the pond of our unconscious is an initiation in consciousness. When we draw it out and befriend it, we claim the archetype of Strength as our own.  This prepares us for one of the greatest adventures and challenges of our lives, the journey inward.  Our next card and archetype, The Hermit.


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