Breaking: Apart or Open?

31 03 2011

Have you ever looked at the first card in the tarot deck, The Fool? In many decks, The Fool is setting forth on a journey. He has packed lightly, a small bundle slung over his shoulder. He looks ahead, not down at the path which, to onlookers, appears to be a precarious one. A dog nips at his heels (or in some drawings, his bum) but he appears unconcerned. In fact, he sets forth with a face full of joy and hope, blithely unaware of the dangers that await wherever he is headed. The Fool appears foolish, indeed.

What an apt image for us as we set out into our lives – especially as we set off into the uncharted lands of relationship. We rarely see what is before us, even when there are markers in place (I once dated someone who told me on our first date that his favorite song was “Love the One You’re With”. Perhaps I should have read that marker.) But often, there are no easy-to-read road signs. I don’t know about you, but I am cautious by nature, and it is rare for me to put my feet to a path I can’t see the end of. So, I have ventured out into the territory of love relationships timidly, afraid of the unknown future ahead and of the possibility of experiencing emotional pain.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: broken hearts. Despite my caution, my heart has indeed been broken a time or two. No one, I think, really experiences life without heartbreak. In the throes of real emotional pain, I have wondered, “What am I supposed to do with this? With this broken thing that was my heart, with these feelings that have nowhere to go now that they have no one to be invested in?”

In one such moment recently, I read the following paragraph, and it gave me some much-needed perspective:

“But there are at least two ways to understand what it means to have our hearts broken. One is to imagine the heart broken into shards and scattered about — a feeling most of us know, and a fate we would like to avoid. The other is to imagine the heart broken open into new capacity — a process that is not without pain but one that many of us would welcome.” (Parker Palmer, from A Hidden Wholeness)

When I read this, it immediately reminded me that I have, in fact, experienced my heart being “broken open into new capacity”. One such experience was a trip I took to Ireland a few years ago. I had never travelled overseas, and had dreamed of visiting Ireland – then got the opportunity to travel with a group from the university. I fell in love with Ireland, and with the person I became on that trip — a person who lived as fully as possible in every minute, who didn’t leave a drop or a crumb behind. It was amazing. When we boarded the plane to return to the States, I put my jacket over my head and cried for two hours.  But the experience of leaving that perfect moment broke my heart open. A love of travel and an image of myself as fully alive were the new capacities born of that experience.

When our hearts break due to relationships not working, not going where we want them to, ending, it is difficult to accept. To then, on top of learning to live with the brokenness, expect or hope for something new and good to be born of it almost defies us. It feels beyond our reach, and yet…perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps we’re meant to learn that looking like a fool isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps we’re meant to discover that hearts are resilient muscles — and like all muscles, they get stronger the more you use them. And perhaps the capacity that will be born is the ability to love without reservation, because you begin to understand that the journey itself (rather than its end) is what makes it worthwhile to do so.

And so you, The Fool, journey on. You feel your feelings, especially the ones that hurt. You look for the good, for the things you may have learned or discovered in yourself. You flex your heart muscle and find that it still works. And eventually, as a Missy Higgins song puts it, “you’ll wake to find, you’re a little unbroken.”

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