The Collector of Red Flags

The other day I revealed all of my most personal thoughts to a person that I had known for only a blink longer than 10 minutes. As we raced down the highway in a metal bullet, I divulged my deepest wounds, my lowest moments, and my greatest fears. My conversation was not pleasant for my companion. Cringing, she gripped the wheel, and guided us further into the heart of the city. The fire of my tales fuelled her anger. The sharp edges that have long grated against my soul drew blood from a heart that doesn’t beat in my chest. As much as I hated my companion’s discomfort, her reaction made me feel real: valid, strong.

She listened with ears and mind open to my verbal diary. When words seized to form in my mouth, my companion began to speak. She had answers. She had solutions. She had her own stories to tell.

“You’re a collector,” she said. “A collector of red flags.”

I shook my head confused. I’m obscenely aware of the red flags that surround me; they cause me pain; they cause me fear. Why would I collect them?

My companion trilled her response: “You see the red flags and run to them. You collect them, hoping that each one flag will eventually fly at half mast, or better yet, be torn to shreds in the wind, leaving behind everything beautiful that you hope for in the world.”

In my deepened confusion, I became defensive. How could this stranger know me well enough to gouge my ego with her perfectly painted nails? But she did know me. I had after all exposed myself so naked that I was raw, skinned, revealed down to my atoms. She saw me for everything I am, molecularly damaged, emotionally stained, and scared. I had no choice but to listen to her harsh, honest, and true version of ME.

“Do you notice how when you set boundaries, people push them back so far that you question why you built the walls in the first place?”

I nodded.

“Do you notice how you give so much of yourself that some people take without asking, then blame you for not giving more?”

I nodded.

“Do you notice how you see the red flags but don’t run from them because you feel responsible for helping, guiding, and caring for every misguided soul?”

I nodded, this time feeling my chest tighten around the truth.

I am a giver. I am a caregiver. I am a person who often puts the needs, or wants of others before my very own. In person, I am akin to a Tin Woman, rusty, creaky, and tired when I try to bend. My personality however is more flexible than a world renowned contortionist. I bend, I flip, I twist myself to be who, and what others need. I can’t bear the thought of not helping if I’m able to.

“Those red flags,” my companion continued, “They aren’t yours to keep. You need to drop them, give them back to their owners, and run away from the flags, rather than trying to help people tear them down. You can only save the world by saving yourself.”

I didn’t respond. My words at that point would not have been chosen with care because my ego was too wounded with the truth of reality. Today, I know this person who shared not a moment more than 7 hours of my life was right. Not only is she right, but she’s succeeded in changing my life perspective, opening my eyes, and helping me find my feet when I couldn’t see past my own nose.

So, where does that leave me? It’s been weeks, actually months since I started writing this post. I am still collecting red flags. I have a garden of them, a snow globe of them, a field of flags so red they burn my eyes when the sun hits them. I’ve learned something though…

I’ve learned which flags I can no longer carry for other people. The people that fly them need to deal with their issues themselves. I can’t save the world, if I don’t stand for myself. The hardest face to look at is my own in the mirror when I allow myself to be wrapped up in yet another red flag, rather than protecting myself with my shield, and my personal badge of honour.

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