Tough and Tender
A few days ago, someone I’m friends with on Facebook posted a quote that starts out “We have enough women who are tough, we need more women who are tender” (The actual quote doesn’t matter, but if you’re interested, you can find the quote, and the talk it was taken from, here.) My response to this quote started out “sometimes a woman has to be tough to protect her tender heart.”
As I wrote my reply, and thought about a tough exterior to protect a tender interior, lychee fruit came to mind.
For those who are botanically and culinarily deprived, the lychee is a fruit native to south-east Asia. About the size of a plum, it has a leathery skin that protects an milky, almost opalescent flesh. It’s smell has been described as “perfume-like”, and the taste is incredibly sweet and delicate.
I also happen to be allergic to lychee. The one time I’ve eaten it, my throat started to swell up. For me, lychee is quite literally a forbidden fruit. So why had my mind placed it at the heart?
The lychee was a symbol for love, beauty, well-being, and sensuality in ancient China. (source). The syllables li-zhi (an alternative spelling/pronunciation of lychee) can also mean to produce money, and to have an heir (especially a son). Li is also a homonym for li, which means intelligent or clever (source).
Love, beauty, well-being, sensuality, children, and intelligence all make sense placed at the heart. But the problem of my allergy keeps coming to the surface–I don’t think I’d ever heard of these symbols before researching this image of a lychee placed at the heart, so I don’t know how much my subconscious was utilizing them. It is true that I have avoided becoming romantically involved with another person. I identify as asexual, bi-romantic (meaning I don’t want sex, but I’m aesthetically and emotionally drawn to both men and women). Along with my sexual orientation, my personality is such that it would be very easy for me to become a victim in an abusive relationship. To protect myself from this, I have avoided getting involved in romantic relationships.
Perhaps, then my subconscious was linking the good qualities I knew about the lychee–it’s fragrance, it’s taste, it’s beautiful flesh–to the world of relationships. On one level, I know they are good, but on another level, I’m afraid of getting hurt, so I don’t pursue them.
Western tradition and philosophy doesn’t have anything to say (that I could find) about lychee, but it does have much to say about forbidden fruit. The lychee is a desirable fruit, and one that is forbidden to me. (if I eat it I would surely die. Especially if I didn’t have any Benadryl or an Epi-pen handy.) The tree that Eve ate from, which resulted in her and Adam being expelled from the Garden of Eden, was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, often referred to simply as “The Tree of Knowledge”.
I had put a forbidden fruit at my heart.
I am a Mormon, though not a very active one. I grew up in a tradition that says that Eve’s actions were good and noble and necessary for mankind’s spiritual development, and eternal progress. With this background, a forbidden fruit at the heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and when I change the name from “forbidden fruit” to “knowledge”, then it becomes a very good thing indeed.
Breaking this symbol up, the book represents knowledge, and the heart compassionate and wise application of that knowledge. This, to me, is wisdom. Knowledge of good and evil makes this combination an even more potent symbol of wisdom.
So, then, it makes sense that my subconscious would put a forbidden fruit, fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, at the heart. It then becomes a reminder to be wise, especially when choosing between the good and the evil.
The wonderful thing about symbols is that they can mean more than one thing. So, in this case, the image of a lychee used as symbol for the heart can be a kick in the pants to me about my relationships, or lack thereof, and a reminder to be wise. Ignoring my allergies, the leathery, ugly exterior covering a sweet and beautiful flesh is a reminder to look beyond the exterior into another person’s heart. And maybe a reminder to look more tenderly at my own.
- Thoughts on the Forbidden Fruit (speakingsilenceblog.wordpress.com)
- On Tenderness (kaitlindeasy.wordpress.com)
- Lovely Longans (heartboundliving.wordpress.com)