Take Up Your Red Nose

Image: Matilda’s Debut, Summer 2014, Photo by Joshua Sage.

by Veena Vasista. This first appeared in Geez 64: The Holy Fool.
I arrived to my forties wonder-full.

Wondering how to love. Wondering, as a long-time human rights activist, how we can possibly create liberation when we continually replicate the oppression we claim to be dismantling. Wondering how to be free from suffering.

I’d been journeying along life’s spiral with neck tensed, shoulders curved, and legs weakened from bearing a heavy cross of beliefs: Vulnerability is shameful. I am repulsive and disgusting.

At 42, masked with resilience, intellect, banter, and adventure, I left my life in London, England. I took my wonders for a wander, all the while wearing my cross of beliefs close to my heart.

I arrive in the lands colonizers call Chiapas, Mexico. A musician gifts me a red nose. I discover he belongs to a team of artists who wear this tiny red mask while raising awareness and starting conversations about sensitive topics such as sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence. I keep the red nose, unsure of how and when to wear it.

A cyber hacker takes me to an Indigenous-led Zapatista school. Their hall of mirrors magnifies my disfigured, colonized, and crossed self. When we part ways, the hacker hands me scriptures by the philosopher Erich Fromm, illuminating Love as a practice, an orientation.

I return to London enlivened by such encounters, while still contorted by the weight of the cross. Repeatedly, I curl up in a little ball on the floor, drenched by the tears and sweat of fear and loathing. I wonder what happened to the red nose; I can’t find it anywhere.

Still seeking freedom, I leave London again. I spiral into the lands colonizers call Santa Fe, New Mexico. No plan, job, or clear path – bearing the cross and carrying gems whose value I don’t yet fully recognize. “You Fool!” some say.

A teacher with the social circus Wise Fool New Mexico confers upon me a red nose. They coach me into stillness, into the art of a well-timed exhale. They ask me to amplify and play with physical traits I’d previously sought to hide. I lead with my frog-eyed, big-nosed, isn’t-she-so-ugly self. The deeper I go into my contortions, the softer they become. I start experiencing an ease of being in myself – invited to embrace, even illuminate my too-muchness and tenderly meet and share my not-enoughness.

Eventually, I give birth to Matilda – red nose, giant pigtails, large eyes, often afraid, continuously befuddled by the world around her. She gives a tug on each pigtail to embolden herself and looks directly in your eyes – whether she’s smiling, crying, raging, fearing.

Matilda has a public, on-stage debut – fearfully dancing on stilts, holding her breath . . .

Exhale.
Stillness.

She untangles herself, tugs her pigtails, and spirals into a joyful dance. A fool? Maybe. After the performance, an audience member says, “Thank you. I sometimes get afraid like that, too.” The cross I’m wearing shudders, softens, shifts. I breathe more freely.

A few years later, I announce my arrival to the dining room at The Gesundheit Institute in the lands colonizers call West Virginia. I say, “Wosha, eesha, dee-mohay, akkala, Khaya-sheeeeksaaaa-ho-yaaaaaay. Wheeeeee!” I am greeted with gibberish in return.

Exhale.
Stillness.
Joy.
Homecoming.

Now, in my early fifties. I might catch your attention with my suede sneakers – one blue, one beige. I might startle you by how comfortable I am in my own nose – which, by the way, is large, brown (like the rest of me), and crooked.

If you ask me what is Love, I’ll say: the daily practice of care, compassion, curiosity, and accountability in service to wholeness.

But don’t listen to me. Don’t trust me. To some, I am a gibberish-speaking fool.

To me, I am a human broken open by a clown, who feels increasingly lighter and more whole for having let the cross fall off of its chains and break into pieces.

Veena Vasista is currently focused on cultivating Beloved Community as a Feldenkrais Method® practitioner, writer, facilitator, colleague, neighbour, friend, family member, and everyday clown.

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 64, Spring 2022, The Holy Fool.

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