Did you? Startle, that is. And no, this is not a photo from last week-end’s Halloween Fun House of Scary. This is Saint Lucy, and she can be found in the nave of Saint John the Baptist, an Italian Catholic Church in Columbus, Ohio.
Following the wedding of former student, Kelsie Gerardi and her husband, Alex Stites, I was exiting the church and saw a glorious stained glass window requiring my closer attention. En route to this attraction, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of these very shiny, very realistic eyeballs, which were just about eye level with me.
I startled. This is an involuntary reflex pattern involving contraction of neck muscles, head thrust forward, shoulders lifting, arms extended, knees flexed. Habitual body patterns of the startle reflex are a major reason why we live our lives in downward pull and excess tension. Add up all the times we find ourselves surprised, distressed, or alarmed, and it’s easy to see how we could be holding some degree of startle in our bodies.
Back to the eyeballs, source of my startle pattern. Saint Lucy, legend has it, was admired by a suitor for her beautiful eyes. She proceeded to pluck them out. I’m sorry. This is really the story. She is now the Roman Catholic Church’s patron saint of the blind. I respect the Romans, and sang for them 15 years at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Columbus However, their saintly legends can get gory!
But. Here’s the window I was headed toward when I made the surprise acquaintance of Saint Lucy. And as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I cannot resist this opportunity to give you a suggestion for responding to, and moving out of, the inevitable startle response. After the initial contraction, note where your body tensed and compressed. Confirm that you have survived this latest alarm, and choose to return to balance. Allow for a lengthening of your spine, invite an easeful breath, and move with intention toward the next beautiful moment of your life, in this case, a window and the happiness of the newly married couple.
Thank God for eyes to see and loved ones to celebrate. Congratulations, Alex and Kelsie!