Hearts

::JUMP::

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Jumping Off a Cliff

The other day, I was thinking about how love works. There are, some say, many different kinds of love. Parental or ‘paternal’ love is one. Romantic love is another. The love between friends, the love between siblings … all real, all serve to soften the edges and warm the heart as we traverse the predictably rocky path of life.

I like the way M. Scott Peck talks about it:

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” 

There’s a kind of love that keeps us going … in pursuit of a dream, pursuit of justice, pursuit of a passion. Sometimes even pursuit of a relationship. There’s the warmth of camaraderie between people who share interests — in music, theology, writing, art.

C.S. Lewis describes the recognition between kindred spirits:

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” 

The backside of love is the broken heart. Love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin. We jump off the “love cliff” and fly for awhile – months, years, decades – but eventually experience the crash of loss at the end. Sometimes it’s the soft landing of age and knowing that it’s time. Other landings are sudden, unexpected, hard. Unforseen crashes leave our heart in pieces.

Somebody said it, though I can’t remember who … one of my favorite philosophers, I’m sure. He said the beautiful heart has been softened by being broken over and over again; it has been turned to grains of sand.

I love that analogy. For a heart to be in that state, the person has chosen love every time, knowing the crash always comes.

Those who jump off that cliff again and again are valiant. And yet, what are the other options? What would life look and feel like if we stayed away from that jagged edge, safe and secure, never jumping at all?

According to C.S. Lewis, we have that choice:

Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

So yes, to love is a choice. And yes, it is a brave choice; we step into our own vulnerability when we open ourselves to it. But, given what Lewis describes as the alternative, it’s really the only choice to make, isn’t it?

Here’s what it comes down to: it’s love that keeps us glued together inside our own skin. It’s the connective spark that pulses through us, the flame that puts the light in our eyes.  it’s the sweetness that makes everything else worth breathing for. It’s what we’re made of. And it’s the stuff of Who made us. Love and dust. So, really, what do we have to lose?

Let’s jump.

::Oh, Fitzwilliam::

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Celia at 3 - 3I’m a little teary today. Not constantly, but in those spaces between big thoughts it creeps in, and I catch my breath. Really, it’s the craziest thing. It started with David Bowie. And Jane Austen.

I’m of the generation that rode Bowie’s outrageous musical wave with him. I was on the sidelines, having babies; but I watched, and listened. And dreamed.

The Viet Nam war was raging, girls were burning bras, and in California, hippies were putting daisies in the barrels of guns.

In my little world, I imagined what that  life would be like. If I could make the music I wanted to make. If I could chop my hair, turn it pink, or orange, or blue. If I could climb out of my responsible skin, and into the skin of a free spirit. Jump off the limb, way up high, believe I could fly.

And as an avid reader of Jane Austen books, I also imagined going back to those days, of handiwork under the shade tree; of a simpler life. Of Mr. Darcy.

But I was a young mother; my  beautiful babies needed feeding, wash had to be done … all the things that go into keeping a life on track. Still, while hanging diapers on the line, or cooking dinner, or folding clothes, singing lullabyes, my mind went on amazing journeys … back in time, or somewhere future. It still does.

Sometimes I’m a literary writer, sitting on the sandy beach with her books and pens. The south of France; or Italy, in a small medieval castle by the sea.  I can see that so clearly, it’s like I’m really there.

Other days I feel the need to trim the oil lamps and pull out my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.

My fantasy world also embraces the anticipation of  relationship.

I remember as a young girl of eight going to see War and Peace. We came home and for days I wouldn’t look in the mirror; I didn’t want to break the spell that I truly was Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova, pursued by the handsome Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.

Years passed, and I kept growing up, as girls do. But I continued to live my fantasies while setting the table or ironing the pillowcases. From the Philco radio, Frankie Lane sang “They Called the Wind Mariah.” It may have looked like I was just pressing hard creases on cloth table napkins, but I knew I was riding a wild Mustang across the prairie, the wind in my hair.

That was long ago. My life has seen heartbreak, death, love, more heartbreak. And yet. Yet I still dream; I still believe.

In spite of what I’ve walked through, I  know my Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is waiting for me.  But the truth is, I possess the spunk and mettle of Elizabeth Bennett.

So perhaps it will be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy who calls for me, after all.

 

::THE BOY IN THE BAND::

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Broken Heart Guitar Pic

I was a child of the sixties, and grew up in a household centered around the Holy Catholic Church and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My parents were children of the Great Depression; they learned that life means do without, stretch a dollar, work hard, drink harder, and show up at Mass every Sunday. I was their first child, born to them when they were young, tragically beautiful, and very much in love.

When I was a little girl I would study my mother’s face … her hazel eyes, long eyelashes, full red lips. She was clearly a movie star. I wondered what she was doing in that two bedroom house on North Marion Street, with its linoleum kitchen floor and parched sapling in the front yard. Even at four-and-a-half, I knew she’d been miscast. Through the years, five more babies, and alcoholic chaos, it became an undeniable fact: my mother belonged in a different movie.

As the oldest daughter, my job was laugh inducing peacemaker. Lots of oldest daughters have that role. My brother, two years younger, was mother’s tenderhearted caretaker. We spent our childhood together in the family foxhole. Nothing will bond siblings like friendly fire. It’s a sort of hellish, heartbreaking love that no one else knows. But at the time, it was our family’s brand of ‘normal;’ imagine my surprise when, years later, I learned that some families had no foxhole at all.

I grew up and, with what I’d learned of how life works, and my place in it, I went out into the world. Within short order, I said “I do” to the boy in the band.

The boy and I were a textbook example of symbiotic dysfunction. Our fractured parts fit together perfectly. Through twenty five years and two children, we cut ourselves and each other on those jagged edges. Part of his brokenness included repeated indiscretions. Part of my brokenness included denying they were happening, while blaming myself that they were.

It was his final, spectacular betrayal with my sister that made me sit up and say, “No. There is no amount of glue that can put us back together this time.” I gathered up the pieces of my heart; I left the boy in the band.

The next eighteen months were like a slow motion train wreck. All I could do was hang on, and wait for it to stop.

I remember the date. May 10, 1991. That morning the phone woke me up. My attorney, calling to tell me the divorce was final. She’d used the word, “Congratulations.” I think I said, “Thank you,” but I wasn’t grateful for any of it. I hung up, and laid in bed, waiting. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought I would surely feel … relief? Excitement, maybe? No. Just silence.

I threw off the covers, walked into the bathroom, and stared at the face in the mirror. Who will I be now? I whispered at her. A sincere question. I’d lurched through the decades, constantly reinventing myself, determined to be whoever those claiming to love me told me I was. Now I had no one to tell me. I was at a loss.

The next months and years were like being born, over and over again. I was the mother giving birth;  I was the baby shooting out of the canal into what I prayed would be a gymnast landing. I wanted a 10 from the judges.

But it wasn’t working anymore, as if it ever really had. I finally raised the white flag of surrender. I’d run out of things to try, people to be. I was exhausted. All I had left was me. When I finally gave into myself, it felt like declaring bankruptcy.

For months, going out in public unvarnished was really frightening; but there was also an undercurrent of excitement. And eventually, slowly, what I’d feared most became easier, partly because it was natural. And I’d have to say the surprise for me was that while life is always full of challenges, showing up in it doesn’t have to be hard. Sometimes there are still glitches, but every day I’m moving closer to the center of someone I’ve always known; the person God put here and breathed life into. There’s a peace in connecting with what’s true in me; authentic perspective gives a clarity like nothing else.

During those years, I was living in Toluca Lake. On my walk one morning I glanced at a flower growing up through a crack in the asphalt. I went past it, then stopped, backed up, and studied it. That little flower was blooming and reaching for the sun, in spite of the considerable efforts made to stop it. “Wow,” I thought. “That’s me.”

Ever since I was a tiny girl, I’ve felt a check in my spirit … like a tiny thread of light, deep inside. Piled over with years of Catholic school, alcoholic parents, sweet babies, abusive marriage, broken dreams … you’d think that thread would have snapped, or caught fire, or disintegrated. It never did. And that’s what I’m back in touch with now.

These days, I know where home is. I’ve discovered that I was right here all the time.

And I have to smile because the truth is, I’ll always love the boy in the band.

::SAFE HARBOR::

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SAND AND SEA

I got back from the beach last night. On my morning walks by the shore I harvested a few beautiful shells. Now I stand at the kitchen sink with my coffee, lower them into the basin of water.
And my mind drifts …

“Come out of your shell.” Or, “She needs to come out of her shell.” I’ve heard it said about others, I’ve heard it said about me−both sincerely and sarcastically, as in , “Umm, girlie, you need to climb back into your shell; you’re a little ‘too far out’.”

But the shell thing−like sea urchins or snails−what a Divine idea. To carry your protection on your back; to be able at a moment’s notice to dodge any bullet simply by “climbing in.”

If I could have, I would have. Especially in the nineties. Those were ‘the paranoid years’. The time when my hair fell out in clumps. I knew people were whispering about me through the soup cans at the grocery store. One of the things Tim did was he copied my journal, rewrote it, then showed it to everyone he could think of. Hell yes, I wanted a shell. One that could hold a woman in her forties, protect her from the man who’d claimed to love her; one where she could cry every tear until they made an ocean she could float away on.

I run the water till it’s a little warm, and begin massaging each of the small, ridged shapes with my fingertips until their pearly surfaces become visible.

Some say time heals wounds. But it never says anything about what you’re supposed to do while the healing happens. Sit on the floor, back corner of the closet? That was a favorite spot. Fall asleep on the couch, with the TV on? That happened more times than I can count. Get home from your therapist, pace for twenty four hours, watching the clock til it’s time to get in the car and head back to her office? For months I did that. She saved my life.

Those experiences−the closet floor, the couch, Dr. High’s office−they never felt like healing at all. They felt like one big gyroscopic attempt to hang on. I thought the spinning would never level out, that I would never find solid ground. But the truth is, I did. And healing happened.

When I think about the woman I was then, I am moved by her pain; by her need to hide away. I want to reach back and hold her. I want to tell her it will be okay. Tell her that, believe it or not, she’ll survive. And she’ll be glad she did.

I swish the water gently and choose a shell, think of the moment I picked it from the sand. I turn this delicate vessel over in my hand. It is a profound reminder of protection and release.

Where have the creatures gone? Perhaps they found other shells for safe harbor. Perhaps their time came to transition, becoming one with the flotsam and jetsam. Or perhaps they are braving this world like I am−out of my shell, ready to move forward into whatever this day and this life will bring.

EAGER HEARTS

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HEARTS IN FLIGHT

Every heart
born new and tender
Beats with
hope and eagerness
Reaching upward
toward its mother
Cradled safe
upon her breast.

Fearless, strong,
hearts journey onward
Knowing not of
what’s in store
Driven only by
the wonder
What is it they’re
put here for.

In a world of
broken promise
At the port of
broken dreams
You’ll find hearts
broken in pieces
Still not knowing
what it means.

Every dream has faced
a cynic
Every cynic’s scoffed
a dream.

Dreamer
Cynic
Your decision
Can be nothing
in between.