We Are Constantly Invited to Be What We Are
Or, what sobbing at a Regina Spektor concert taught me about the Star
Office Hours with The Tarot Professor is a reader-supported publication. If you’ve stumbled upon this newsletter but are not yet subscribed, join the party!
I saw Regina Spektor at the Greek this past Thursday. She had me in tears by song three and I basically never recovered.
For those of you unfamiliar with the epic music venues of Los Angeles, the Greek Theater is a massive outdoor amphitheater. (And, believe it or not, because we are spoiled musically here in the City of Angels, the Greek is described affectionately as a mini-Hollywood Bowl, which is a true monstrosity of an outdoor amphitheater.)
The reason I set this scene for you is because Regina Spektor walked onto this stage in this venue with a handheld microphone like it was a cafetorium and she was about to introduce her second-graders’ production of the first Thanksgiving and if all parents could please refrain from flash photography, thank you.
That is, she smiled, said hi, and sang her first song just standing there. A cappella! She then neatly sat down at her grand piano and accompanied herself for the rest of the concert.
No band. No backup vocalists. Not even a backing track on a laptop backstage somewhere.
Nope. Just a single soul and her piano to fill the cavernous space.
Her performance was so raw. So intimate. So naked.
This raw authenticity and openness to vulnerability is represented in tarot by the Star.
In tarot, nudity represents honesty and vulnerability. For example, the two nude figures in the Lovers (at least in Rider Waite Smith tarot decks) represent the honest connection and true intimacy that results when we bear our authentic souls to another human and are invited to see theirs in return. (That’s why the Lovers cards isn’t just about sex, although that’s certainly one way to connect with someone.) In the Sun, the babe on the horse is similarly nude because he has yet to learn about self-consciousness and facades and emotional walls to keep others at bay.
The figure in the Star is naked to show that she is without mask or pretense. She pours her heart and soul into all that she does in such a loving and intimate way that she not only nurtures her own creative wellspring (pouring water back into the pool of her subconscious with the jug in her right hand) but also enriches and beautifies the world for others (the water she pours onto the earth with her left hand).
Regina Spektor did just this.
At one point in the concert, I thought my tears would burn holes right through my skull because they were so intense and I was trying so hard to hold them in because I did not want a repeat performance of me during “Bring Him Home” in Les Miserables, which sent my husband to the restroom to - as he alleges - get me tissues, but what I suspect was sheer embarrassment to be in such close proximity to the sobbing crazy person in Front Mezzanine.
The final verse of Spektor’s “On the Radio” is what sent me over the edge:
This is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
Then try to love the things you took
And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again
It’s a heartwarming and basically correct understanding of love, but it’s so earnest in its confusion and effort to get it right. It’s so honest to admit that you’re simply “trying to love the things you took.” Is there anything more vulnerable than admitting you are trying (which implies potentially failing) at something?
And then, the thought of “sticking” this feeble but brave love you’ve mustered “into someone else’s heart, pumping someone else’s blood” is simultaneously awe-inspiring and fucking terrifying.
Before I could even realize what was happening, a film montage of my relationship with my husband started playing in my brain, of us “walking arm in arm” and me scared out of my mind that he would one day stop loving me. Or that I would stop loving him. Or, worse, that we would love each other madly and I’d lose him anyway.
And in that random moment around, say, 10:25 pm on a Thursday night, with illuminated iPhone screens speckling the darkness and the aroma of cheap red wine wafting out of plastic cups and into the summer air, I realized that I am living in sheer terror of losing love.
Instead of basking naked in love’s glory and pouring my love into the world like the Star, I hoard it. I ration it. I temper it. I make sure not to lay it on too thick. I mask it with things like pride and dignity. And I tell myself that by doing this, I am protecting myself. I am softening the inevitable blow that I am certain will come the moment I stop.
The irony, of course, is that this pain is precisely what allows an artist - and a fellow human - to pierce through our rib cage and straight into our hearts, isn’t it? It is that shared pain and that shared hope that creates the magnetism I felt from Regina Spektor. And it’s what is reflected in the Star card in tarot.
In Tarot and the Archetypal Journey, Sallie Nichols describes the Star’s openness and givingness as a silver lining. The Star is the result of surviving the humiliating and earth-shattering destruction of the Tower, the card that comes before it in the Major Arcana:
The narrow, rigid tower in which [the Hero] was formerly encased no longer contains him. The lofty edifice of words, maxims, and concepts that he has constructed brick by brick to defend himself no longer protects him. Formerly, sitting proudly in his tower, he had thought of himself as a superior being, solid and secure—a somebody. Now he discovers that he is nobody. He has lost all contact with his ego-intellect. His self-image has been knocked for a loop.
I still encase myself in lofty words and concepts. I still sit proudly in my tower, telling myself I am solid and secure. Many of us do.
But the thing about the Tower card in tarot is that once we let this clumsy edifice crumble once and for all, we can actually start living. And, in fact, we merely exist rather than truly live until that point.
I check my phone, which includes Instagram, every morning before getting out of bed. And this morning, I saw a post by a hospital chaplain who has visited hundreds of deathbeds over his years of work. He wrote:
Most people, at the end, realize they’ve spent a lot of their life hiding.
. . .
At a deathbed, if my patient can communicate, they show they’re dying two deaths: the one they’re dying and then the death of the life they really wanted to live.
The Star urges us to stop hiding. To stop masking our emotions and our passions. To stop pushing people away because we are afraid of them seeing our true selves. To love deeply. To create unabashedly. To live fully.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “We are constantly invited to be what we are.”
The Star implores that we accept the invitation.
~ ~ ~
Because nobody likes to cry alone, I made you a playlist of my favorite Regina Spektor songs. If you give it a listen, let me know which one is your favorite.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial