It happens to all of us. Being human, sooner or later, life is going to break our hearts. The only way we can try to avoid heartbreak is to never give our whole self to anyone or anything worthy of our tears. Praying Mantis are pretty good at that. Humans? Not so much.
You know it’s out there, especially on your best days. You can feel the pulse of your life and tap into that energy easily, like holding your mother’s steady hand when you were 4 years old. That feeling of connection is as smooth as soft-serve ice cream on a summer day. That feeling is real-life sweet.
In every life there are times when all we can do is hunker down, hang on, buy a bagel and wait for the shit storm to pass. Sometimes that storm comes from external factors beyond our control. The company we work for goes under, or goes in a new direction, or needs to reduce workforce, or is bought by a new company that doesn’t need us. And that’s all assuming we had the good fortune to be employed in the first place.
Our parents are the lead characters in our first story. Whether they loved us, left us, or lost us somewhere along the way—or we lost them—our parents are the passageway of our arrival into the world. Our parents, particularly our mothers, are the first and most intimate bond we have with the world and ourselves. What they imprint on us can make life feel welcoming or fearsome—and sometimes both.
There is a thin, pliable membrane that runs between life and death. It is both fierce and fragile. When we are healthy, most of us don’t ever think of that delicate proximity. We are too busy living to consider dying, except, perhaps, in the abstract and generally in regards to someone else’s life, not our own.
If we are lucky, we come into the world with healthy hearts that pump essential nutrients to our bodies and our brains for the duration of our lives. The heart is one of the most essential organs of our bodies and so intrinsically connected to who we are that it is also an iconic symbol of all that we love, long for, lose and recover throughout life. When we are worried, we call it heartsick, when we are grief-stricken, we call it heartbroken, when we recover life or rediscover it anew, we call it heartening.
We ask the people we love, we ask the people who matter to us professionally, and on a broader level, we ask the people we encounter as we go about our everyday lives: the cashier who takes your coffee order, the jogging neighbor you wave to from the car on the way to work, the elderly woman sitting across from you on the train.
The four questions rarely get asked with words, just as they're rarely answered with words.
Some moments in life shake you to your core and take your breath away. In these moments, the only way out is to find a path through. If you’re a hiker, then you know if you ever find yourself lost in the woods, you should almost always seek to take the path of least resistance to conserve energy and strength. This means stepping over, not up, walking around and not scaling whatever obstacles you encounter.
Chances are, if you are deeply connected to the people in your life, you may find yourself in the role of a caregiver someday. It’s part of the “all-in, for better or worse” deal that we choose to make with our partners, kids, parents, siblings and friends. It can be the deep end of a seemingly endless, dark sea of physical, emotional and, often, financial support for someone whose future is uncertain. Recognize that caregiving can be one of the sweetest, most meaningful experiences of your life, or leave you gutted and bone dry. In reality, if you take that role on, it will likely do both, sometimes in the same hour.
As I settled into the idea of simply listening instead of demanding to hear what I expected, a space opened up for a new sound to come. It was low at first, and quiet, but as my ear tuned to a new frequency, I heard it clearly. It was the sound of the whoosh of life, as strong and sure as the spring current flowing across the paddle of a kayak, constant as the river that holds the kayaker and his dream.
When I saw the trees of Willow Springs I knew I was almost home. Soon, I would wake the sleeping dogs from the back seat of the Jeep and together, we would explore all the territory that lay ahead of us. For my young dog Gus, it would be a homecoming, for Cody, my mother’s dog that I had recently inherited after Mom’s move to an assisted living apartment, it would be a new life. For me, it would be a way to love my mother in absentia again. It had been that way between us for years: love from a safe distance.
Some experiences in life will absolutely break your heart. Count on it. It comes with all the beautiful, staggering territory of being mortal. These are not the everyday losses or even things that feel like they break your heart in the moment. For example, when your ten year old insists that they must drink cola out of your great grandmother’s crystal cocktail glass and promptly drops it on the floor right after she says she won’t drop it. Now you have a set of five to pass on to her and a good story, but at the time your heart really hurt. I’m talking about the losses that cause us to question everything we believe in.