Ask a child to point to herself. Where does her index finger land?
If you or I were to point to ourselves, we would likely place our hand on the same destination as that child.
We point not to our forehead, not to our stomach, not to our ear or our other hand. We point to our heart.
I point to my heart because that’s where I live. I live through my heart. I see the world through my heart. I breathe through my heart. I listen to people with my heart. Heart to heart conversations are, for me, timeless, precious. “Your vision becomes clear only when you can look deeply into your own heart.” (Carl Jung).
I point to my heart because I “take heart” when a child smiles. I am “heartened” when I am in the presence of kindness and beauty.
Often I “wear my heart on my sleeve.”
We know we are approaching truth when our actions are “heartfelt”, when we open our heart, when our “heart is touched” by someone’s love, when we have faith to “harden not our hearts”.
We long to get to the “heart of the matter”. We feel “heartbroken” when we are hurt and heartache when we lose a person we love. My heart broke when I lost my sister Karen on May 26th. In so many ways, we identify our true selves with what is in our hearts.
We educators also go to school and more school and more and more school to educate our minds, empower them with knowledge, broaden them with theories and research, deepen them with insight and perspective. And, in the end (as in the beginning) we find our true self in our heart. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou’s heart reminds us.
We are our hearts. So, we need to tend to and care for our hearts as much as we pursue knowledge because if that big bear of a muscle fails, we have nothing left.
Do you tend to and care for your heart? John Donahue tended his heat when he made decisions to “waste his heart on fear no more”. Does he speak for you?
He does for me.
Two week ago, I tended to my heart. I chose to surrender my heart to four and one-half hours of flat-on-my-back surgery. Such surgical tending was necessary for my heart to beat effectively.
The surgery failed. I did not.
I faced my tigers above, tigers below, and tigers within, those clawsome forces that can ignite PTSD flashbacks, and addle me with panic so strong I want to run away. I did not run.
I did the opposite. I shared my fears. I asked for help. I admitted deep vulnerability. I owned my disability, PTSD. The surgery failed. I did not.
The surgery failed. My surgeon did not. Dr. Robotis and his team worked competently, intricately, and diligently to make things right. About thirty percent of the time, heart ablation surgery doesn’t work. When that happens, the surgery needs to be repeated, sometimes more than twice or three times. One colleague tells me a friend required nine surgeries. Another colleague knows a doctor whose heart didn’t heal until the fifth surgery.
So, I ask: What is the deeper message, the second, third, or ninth chance when something we need fails us? You’ve faced disappointments, loss, failures. What does your heart tell you about loss?
I do not love the saying: One step forward; two steps backward. I do not love victim status. I love my life’s unfolding adventure. Today, I feel more confident facing the unknown. Of course, I may still get scared. Terrified. Tigers can circle with neon eyes. Some hearts take a lifetime to heal.
Today, as I just begin to understand this pothole in my pathway, I make choices. I chose to:
- See my heart as a metaphor, an emblem of the truth, of deeper understanding;
- Acknowledge generations of heart disease in my family, much of which was incurable at the time or too frightening for ancestors to face;
- View heart disease itself as a metaphor. Mine is a family of heartbreak, mental illness and hidden abuse, none of which we are supposed to name.
- Accept the gift I am given: As my heart heals, my actions can begin to reverse the cycles of heartache handed down through generations.
When I was a child wounded by my parents’ abuse, I learned from my older sister, Karen, to swallow my grief to avoid, “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about”. Karen modeled for me my family’s “grin and bear it” motto. Even then, I walked my own pathway, using words, writing my parents: “You are choking my heart”.
I believe my parents, their parents, and generations tracing back to island nations scared by warfare lived as best they could. Who would want to pass cruelty and disease onto their children? I love my parents; they did the best they could.
Now the work is mine: as I face this 2nd, 5th, ninth chance to breathe freely, to walk with a stride, to swim without fear of breathlessness, I am grateful.
I may never love surgery. I may never love facing emotional flashbacks. I may never love the possibility that my heart could remain wounded until the end of my days. I can love the hope that comes from having done my best. I can love the belief that the healing I seek will help others. I do love walking alongside my tigers, rather than running from them.
Poets and sages tell the truth in a deeper way than facts and figures:
- Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince knows: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh notes: “The amount of happiness that you have depends on the amount of freedom you have in your heart”.
- Martin Luther King reflects: “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart”.
My task is to listen more fully, to hear and one day better understand the “inaudible language” of my heart. Yes, I will revel at the NAEYC conference this week, pacing myself to be kind to my heart. Yes, I will fly solo to discover Sri Lanka the next week, and join a small group adventure to the “Soul of India” in the weeks that follow. Yes I will celebrate my seventieth birthday New Year’s Eve with authentic gratitude. And yes, I will waste my heart on fear no more.
May we “do at last what we came here for”: claim our birthright to wonder and joy.
~ Holly Elissa Bruno