A Fortress Around Your Heart

Today I took a trip with some family and friends to a fortress in the area where I live for a birthday trip. As a military historian, one of my major interests is fortification. As is often the case in my life, my interests have symbolic importance, and being an experienced wall builder around my own heart, I am always intrigued in matters of fortification of a literal or figurative matter. Fortresses are unusual in many ways that people often do not reflect on, and at times fortresses can be a lot more trouble than they are worth [1]. That said, I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the matter of literal fortresses and examine some of the implications of being a wall builder around a tender and vulnerable and wounded heart.

Fortresses are made of a lot of materials. In the course of my own travels as a fan of fortresses, I have seen fortresses made of a wide variety of materials. Some fortresses, like Fort Vancouver (which I visited today) are made of wood. Other fortresses, like Fort Sumter in Charleson or Fort Pulaski in Savannah, are made of beautiful and elegant brickwork. Other fortresses, like Fort Fisher outside of of Wilmington, are made of earthen walls. Some fortresses are designed to protect from threats in the sea, some fortresses are designed to protect from threats on land, and some are built as nominal protection in the absence of any real threat but simply with an eye towards protecting something worth guarding and preserving safely, like a wealthy and strategic trading post, for example.

The same is true with regards to our own personal feelings and belief systems. We build fortresses around our minds and hearts because we live in a dangerous and threatening world, and because our hearts and minds and reputations are worth protecting. So are those who are vulnerable because of disability or the innocence that comes from youth. Such innocence is worthy of being protected until it can become wisdom without being taken advantage of or abused or exploited by the wickedness and darkness of this world. Building a fortress is a sign that one recognizes potential threat, and fortresses, to be effective, have to be built before a threat is active and real.

There are reasons for this, whether we are looking literally or figuratively. Fortresses are fixed defenses that must be complete to be useful (after all, any undefended sector will draw attackers, since most attackers, rather sensibly enough, prefer to attack weak or undefended targets rather than spend resources and time going after well-defended and well-protected areas). Also, it takes time to figure out the best or most vulnerable point that one needs to defend, to examine what sort of threat is most likely at a given point, what materials are at hand to use for a defense, and how best to design a fortresses based upon threats and resources in men and material. None of these are straightforward tasks and they often take years, if not decades, to perfect. By the time an active threat shows up in a given area, it is too late to begin one’s defenses by then, whether we would wish to defend a patch of ground or our hearts and worldviews.

The singer Sting, in his song “Fortress Around Your Heart,” mused about the problems of building metaphorical defenses for a vulnerable heart. He commented that where he once played innocently he had to stop in his tracks for hear of walking on the mines he laid. All too often we are inattentive to the losses that occur when we build a fortress around our hearts or more literal defenses. Yes, those minefields may help keep our hearts or nations safe from attacks, but they may leave a lot of horribly maimed people who stumble innocently and naively on them after the original threats are no longer there.

Worse yet, sometimes we may be so complacent in our defenses that we may not realize that the time and expense we spent on our defenses was wasted. A good example of this is Fort Pulaski. Designed to help protect the vulnerable port of Savannah, Georgia against the British navy, it took decades to complete. Worse, it faced one enemy and found itself picked apart from long range by both smoothbore and rifled canons from a small Union army, having to surrender after a day of fighting without even having been put under siege. An expensive and state-of-the-art fortress was weighed in the balance and found wanting the first time it was put to the test, too late to provide any defense at all in its hour of need. Sadly, sometimes the same is true of our own personal defenses built because of our own hurts and life experiences.

I was reminded about this matter because of something that happened to someone who has not talked to me for years and a friend who has been estranged for some time [2], but who is going through a very difficult time because of the unfaithfulness of a partner of the same sort of pattern as has happened with him before. Knowing him to be a person who has been deeply wounded by what he has seen as betrayal, he (like many of us, myself included) has sought to guard his heart from those who would abuse it or take advantage of it, putting distance where it ought not to be necessary (again, something I know from my own personal experience). However, once we let someone in, they are able to do great harm to us if they choose to hurt us.

This reality places all of us, whether we are fortress builders of a literal or figurative kind, in a terrible bind. We recognize that we are in need of defense, that we are charged with guarding precious and vulnerable ground, we have limited resources and time and a very dangerous world full of threats to cope with, and yet we have to be careful that our defenses will do their intended job while also minimizing our own complacency as well as the chance of injuring innocents while increasing our real security. These are not simple and straightforward tasks. To make matters even more complicated, we have to find a way to properly distinguish between genuine threats and that which is not threatening lest we wear ourselves out trying to defend against everyone and leaving ourselves isolated and exhausted (like a body worn out from its own hyperactive defense systems). Given the constraints we are all under, it is a wonder that our defenses and our fortresses work as well as they do.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/the-fortress-as-death-trap/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/this-is-where-the-story-ends/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to A Fortress Around Your Heart

  1. A couple of thoughts, since I am getting back into this whole faith thing:

    1. We are not responsible for building walls around ourselves. It does not create strength to fortify your mind, heart, emotions and honor behind a while. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Also, 1 Samuel 2:4 – The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.

    2. We will always be hurt. Regardless of the width, armaments or height of the walls we build around ourselves. Building these walls is an act of pride and self-reliance. We are taught, rather, to rely on God. Job 12:16 – With him are strength and sound wisdom; the deceived and the deceiver are his.

    3. Our walls and defenses should not be from our own making. Instead, they are supposed to be the ones God provides for us. Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

    Anyone can build walls to protect themselves from others. That doesn’t take strength. Like a man who hides in his house to keep from being hurt, it is ultimately a sign of weakness. The strong man walks out of his house knowing he will be hurt and thanks those who hurt him. Through trials we are tested and forged. Like steel that has been heated and forged to make it stronger, we must all be hurt, debased and let down. For in that weakness, we know that we cannot protect ourselves, but must rely on our Father to protect us and guide us…like Job.

    I hope you enjoyed your birthday and all the sites you got to see.

  2. Oh…you might also want to tell the people you are talking about that you are posting about them…especially when cross-referencing posts where everyone knows who you are talking about.

  3. I know you weren’t talking about me, but you cross-referenced a blog post that, anyone who knows you and the other party, makes it easy to identify who they are. Airing your own dirty laundry is one thing, but airing someone the news of someone else is, at the very least, irresponsible, and, at the most, hurtful, vindictive and mean-spirited. Let people deal with their own problems before you share them in a public forum. If he chooses to share it in a forum where, only his friends can see it, that is his decision. You sharing it with people that are not on his friends list is hurtful and makes his SO open to backlash that was unwarranted and welcomed.

    • I assume you meant open to backlash that was unwarranted and unwelcomed. Nevertheless, I do understand how this sort of thing could be taken painfully, even if my intent was to show solidarity and concern for someone who has remained behind a stone wall of hurt silence for too long in ignorance of my concern for his feelings. My point was not to discuss personal business, but rather to discuss the human tendency to build walls, a tendency that this very brouhaha indicates is very alive and well among the commenters on this post, whether warranted or not..

  4. Bobby says:

    I expect nothing less than this sort of behavior from Nathan. It is not his right and I highly doubt that he got permission from the parties involved to even discuss it in a public forum. The very act of doing it is a classic example of betrayal. A “christian” shouldn’t do this period. I think it’s ironic that he even feels he should speak of betrayal and “walls” after knowingly writing bad checks to his supposed best friend. I won’t even go into the other examples either. Nathan just believes he is holier than others and thinks rules do not apply to him. To this day, Nathan doesn’t even admit his own betrayal to people. I think if God came down and told him how, he would tell God that he was betraying him. At least his creditors understood that he threw away his friendship for his own vain pride and they leave me alone now.

    • Bobby,

      I assume you meant this post at least indirectly to me. I feel it is ironic and a bit hurtful that you would take a message that was written with sympathy and concern as being a “classic betrayal.” I certainly do feel that I did wrong by not telling you of the serious state of my own difficulties when we were roommates, and from feeling too hurt and embarrassed afterwards to try to seek to explain myself and the depth of my feeling and concern when you initially (and understandably) replied with a great deal of coldness.

      As human beings, many of us are expert (or inexpert) wall-builders. I am certainly not alone in that tendency. Nor, ironically, were any of you a main subject or reason for the post in the first place, for I was referring rather quietly to a pattern of behavior which certain life experiences with certain people have been emblematic of. It is a shame that you do not know my heart and concern and feel it appropriate to write far harsher things about me, which are not true or just, given your misunderstandings of my character and misinterpretations of my intent and writing. Sadly, while you may have expected nothing more than bitterness from me, I expected more from you and Matthew, namely some recognition of my decency of character and genuine concern for the feelings and well-being and happiness of others. And so I am disappointed, if not surprised.

  5. “Love suffers long and is kind…thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth” (I Corinthians 13:4-6). If the personal reference contained in this blog was meant to make a general point one, why cross-reference it with a previous link to indentify the individual involved? It wasn’t necessary to do so because your point was clearly made as a stand-alone statement. Any non- Asperger’s person would interpret this as vindictive. When I point things like this out, I do so as a “lesson learned” standpoint and am merely pointing the other three fingers at myself, for I must “esteem all others as better than myself” (Philippians 2:3). People who claim to be Christian must always look in that spiritual mirror and asked themselves if their words and behavior meet the bar. The ones that the individual from this blog has crossed paths with have been hypocritical–saying one thing and doing another–and I, too, have failed to meet the higher standard. I am no blogger but, in the future, when I “assume” something I read on FB–even from the supposed party involved–that contains negative information, I will privately message him or her personally to assure that I have interpreted the post correctly And I will not share it with anyone else, regardless of relationship or proximity.

  6. Well, anyone can look at this post and its comments to see who thought evil and who did not. As far as the rest, I agree that it belongs to go into the lessons learned category.

  7. i thought that this blog was a very thoughtful analogy between the physical walls people build to keep their enemies at bay and the emotional, internal ones they create to do the same. In both cases, our personal experiences and interpretations of them–and the forewarning of others–are the cause of designating who these “enemies” are. I like the way you analyze and disect things (because I tend to do the same thing) and this blog makes very important points in how our thoughts and emotions tick when it comes to protecting ourselves–or whether we should even shield ourselves from others. The survival mode wrought from the physical fortress calls for self-reliance, and not from faith. Your blog is thought-provoking in these matters, which is a very good thing. I only wish that the one personal reference hadn’t been cross-linked, because this blog stood on its own merit; it was excellent without any examples. You have a finely-honed talent for general expression; a gift that, with Godly grace, should be one to be widely shared

    • I do appreciate the positive comments, but the personal reference was not designed as a vindictive comment, but rather a sign that despite whatever bad blood or miscommunications exist between me and others, that I still desire for others to tear down their own walls, and that I still wish for the best even of those who hate me and revile me and curse me. That said, I can certainly understand how such matters can easily be misunderstood. It does appear as if this particular blog entry has been very thought-provoking, but it has not necessarily provoked the right kind of thoughts.

  8. Perhaps if the personal experiences of others that provoke these blogs are not stated as such or cross-references to previous blogs that have done so, less bad feeling will ensue. The insights and perspectives you bring forth would still be as crisp, clear and relevant. Personal references, even meant in a caring, compassionate way come across as a violation of the other’s privacy. It’s just that way; there is a gap between how something is meant and how it is taken–especially if the two have not been in contact for awhile.

    • I agree, that this can certainly be the case. A lack of communication does not aid in proper understanding of anything that is said though. A larger issue I have is that the people who complain the most are those who tend to read personal references even where none are given, which makes dealing with the proper interpretation of those personal references which are given more difficult.

      • That’s certainly true. The best defense to those who always take things personally in the wrong way is to give them no ammunition to fight with. There are those who will continue to think as they will. Then, as the Proverbs wisely states, give them no mind, for why continue to reason with a closed, obstinate mind? It just causes them to think that their opinions have worth after all.

      • Given that matters have been read as personal where no such personal reference has been given, I am of the opinion that no matter what I say, those of unkind and uncharitable hearts and wicked minds will twist whatever I say into something evil. So, to give some ammunition is unavoidable since whatever I say could be taken wrong. Nevertheless, I do agree that no personal reference ought to be made for those who have no interest in friendly and peaceful relations. I have done my part to express my willingness for friendly relations and for them to repent of their ugly words and actions towards me. If they choose to take my offer of peace as a continuance of hostility, they only have themselves to blame.

      • It’s bad enough when it happens to an introvert (even though I really like people–I learn something from everyone). But to be extroverted… that’s much worse. The walls have to become like God made Jerico’s: laid outward and flat–a very tall order given its surrounding community. The blog was thought-provoking, indeed. 🙂

      • Yes, it is more difficult in this matter to be an extroverted sort of person, because one’s tendency to be outspoken about either intellectual or emotional matters does tend to complicate matters with those who are more private and guarded. Even sharing one’s own perspective can be viewed as being somehow treacherous or uncomfortable.

      • I’ve appreciated this sharing of thoughts and, for my part, will endeavor to give the benefit of the doubt whenever something hits close to home. When we look in the spiritual mirror to identify our personal defects, things can’t help but jar us. However, they should serve to stir us into even greater action rather than defensive reaction. I hope to meet that bar in the future and practice Godly love by refusing to default to faulty or automatic assumptions. That is all part of completing God’s creating His Firstfruits in His image–when we will become fully whole in His Spirit.

        Thank you, again, for listening and being receptive. I hope a general tone in the future will help to alleviate negative comments that are specific in nature. Those who are predisposed to pick, once indentified, should be handled according to the book of Proverbs: silence and a turned back.

      • I agree that we should in general be willing to listen and be stirred into greater godly behavior, but all the same I feel it necessary to defend myself in my space (and this blog happens to be my territory, and so I defend myself rather vigorously where necessary). I do agree that those who are predisposed to view matters negatively should be treated with silence and a turned back should they persist, however if they do so on my space they will be treated by having their own comments deleted if they prove to be offensive and unreasonable; otherwise I am rather tolerant even to those who hate me. You’re very welcome for the receptive attitude; sometimes it is very helpful to see how an outsider could view a given matter without the benefit of all of the missing pieces that I do not include in my writings, and I am grateful as well for the spirited and open conversation about our Christian obligations to do no harm and cause no offense to others.

      • Absolutely–delete all offensive or abusive comments. It’s ironic to have to defend yourself in your own space, though. I would find such a situation intolerable. guess I am somewhat of an innocent, after all. If people come into my virtual home and abuse my hospitality, they would simply be told to leave. I would consider them trespassers and would treat them as such. I’m not sure what my exact threshhold is, but I would know it if I it happened. I do know that I would not allow ANY personal attacks–the “discussion” would have to remain centered on the issue at hand. There would be other rules, but this one would be the biggie.

      • I generally allow people fairly broad freedom to speak so long as their comments contain intellectual commentary. That said, there are occasional personal attacks that are sometimes thrown in the comments, and sometimes people are slow to take warnings about it :B.

  9. (I only say this because I’ve struggled with this particular issue my entire life. It’s a real bear.) *sigh* And it hurts to the core to see someone I cherish go through the same thing.

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