Like a Seed My Heart Breaks Open
April 30, 2023
“We spend our lives trying to anchor our transience in some illusion of permanence and stability. We lay plans, we make vows, we backbone the flow of uncertainty with habits and routines that lull us with the comforting dream of predictability and control, only to find ourselves again and again bent at the knees with surrender to forces and events vastly larger than us. In those moments, kneeling in a pool of the unknown, the heart breaks open and allows life — life itself, not the simulacrum of life that comes from control — to rush in.”
So reads the opening paragraph in the April 30th, 2023 edition of Maria Popova’s weekly newsletter, The Marginalian. It is the beginning of her introduction to Tina Davidson’s book, Let Your Heart Be Broken. She goes on to describe Davidson’s memoir as “a lyrical reckoning with what it takes to compose a life of cohesion and beauty out of shattered bits and broken stories.”
She had me. Right there in the lines, “We lay plans, we make vows, we backbone the flow of uncertainty with habits and routines that lull us with the comforting dream of predictability and control, only to find ourselves again and again bent at the knees with surrender to forces and events vastly larger than us. In those moments, kneeling in a pool of the unknown, the heart breaks open…”
Yes, the heart breaks open – and if we allow it, Life will rush in. But sometimes, in our confusion and grief, we desperately try to put the two halves of our heart back together. We resist the call to allow something new to emerge. We resist the opportunity to change and to grow. We just want things back the way they were. It’s as if a seed, having broken open to release life, frightened of the deep dark in which she finds herself, would try to close back up, rather than to push up toward the Light. It’s a little bit like a baby bird trying to crawl back inside the egg that just broke open and released him into the world.
Popova quotes Davidson’s book:
Let your heart be broken. Allow, expect, look forward to. The life that you have so carefully protected and cared for. Broken, cracked, rent in two. Heartbreakingly, your heart breaks, and in the two halves, rocking on the table, is revealed rich earth. Moist, dark soil, ready for new life to begin.”
For the past two years I have been repeatedly bent at the knees with surrender to forces and events vastly larger than [me] – than any of us. I have not just been kneeling in a pool of the unknown, I have been swimming in it. And some days I am just treading water, surviving. The thing about this pool of the unknown is that there are no clear answers. What is truly true is obscured. There is nowhere to gain a solid footing. It is a deep, dark pool of unknown.
This morning I also read two other bits of news. One was a report from DFL candidate Marianne Williamson, reporting from the South Carolina DFL convention. She wrote:
“Democratic activists [are]being told what to say to convince their friends and constituents to vote for Joe Biden in 2024. The official position – despite the fact that 51% of Democrats have expressed a desire to hear from other candidates – is that President Biden is the nominee and that’s it. Everyone is supposed to toe the party line this year, regardless… There is an anemic and delusional spirit in the air here, I’m afraid – an almost trancelike way in which Democrats are instructed by an official narrative to be so concerned about fascism…that we’re willing to limit our political imaginations, suppress debate among ourselves, and diminish our own commitment to the democratic process.”
The second article I read was about the man in Texas who shot 5 of his nextdoor neighbors on Friday. He was angry that they had asked him to stop shooting his AR-15-style weapon in his front yard at 11:00 at night because the noise was keeping their baby awake. So he walked into their house and shot them.
Marianne’s report heightened my current discouragement with politics. I used to be involved. I used to care. I used to vote. But since the political upheavals of 2016 and 2020, since the political and social fiasco of Covid-19 and vaccinations, since the national, and international confusion and hate filled squabbles about what is conspiracy and what is truth, what is mis-information and what is censorship, what is “fake news” and what is real, unbiased journalism, well, it all seems pointless. I’m angry. And impotent. I refuse to “take a stand” just so I am comfortable and can belong somewhere with like-minded folks. I have opinions – some of them strong ones… but in this grey of the unknown, I am committed to remaining open to the possibility that none of us are “right”, and all of us are “wrong”. Someone once said, “When there are two camps each declaring they are the ones who are right and know the truth of something, then the true truth is camped somewhere else.”
The article about the shooter in Texas broke open yet again that place in my heart that contains this bottemless well of grief. It’s like a slow hemorrhage…it never stops bleeding.
What I could only do in fits and starts was to look squarely at the two halves of my heart rocking on the table, revealing the rich moist soil of possibility and opportunity and begin planting seeds for something new and beautiful. These were seeds of love and compassion. These were seeds of hope. These were seeds of courage. But as we know, there is a time lapse between the planting of seed and its fruition.
Between these momentary fits and starts when I would find my footing, were the days and sometimes weeks of treading water, days of darkness with barely enough energy to engage in the bare necessities of living. When you’re nearly drowning in the unknown with no anchor, it is difficult to know what in the world to do. Some days it all felt too hard, too painful, too pointless. Feeling like that was unbearable – so I’d read novels, or binge watch TV series, or busy myself with household tasks.
My primary lifelines to still giving a damn were my children and my work. I work with educators supporting them in creating healthy learning environments rooted in the philosophy of Restorative Justice. The challenges of this work are what kept me swimming for shore; gave me courage to plant some seeds now and then in the fertile soil of my broken heart. My children and my family were my reason to keep returning to making the choice to open my heart, to feel the feels as my daughter calls it. To reckon with the grief and the anger, to slowly find my way through the valley.
And then there were, and are, the occasional songs, or blog posts, or something a stranger would say…messages from the Universe… “Keep going. Keep swimming. Keep loving. Allow. Open to love and joy and gratitude, allow them to fill you up and radiate beyond you into the world.”
Sometimes that is all we can do. Sometimes that is enough.
Thank you for giving words to these things. It is enough.
And the similar experiences with the utter grief over the family in TX decimated by an uncivil person deported 4 times and returning to wreak havoc on his neighbor (whom he’d helped in the past?) who was in hiding and trying to escape back to Mexico? I heard the story, went on a hike feeling initially ok, but overcome by sadness and unable to breathe, weeping on the trail of fine red dust that swirled like my emotions.
What is this world coming to? Didn’t we hear our grandparents, parents, elders say the same thing? I was reading the poet Ada Limon today about our interaction with the earth. Last night the PBS special about songs of birds, whales, and a lemur(?) whose songs we can’t begin to understand but are being witnessed by in their neighborhood we share the earth with.
I too read the Marginalian and hope we can discuss the book I know you will love, too. Also read a wonderful comment from another author that talks about suffering’s effects as (in labor) enlarging us if we can find a way not to be diminished by it. A good call for my own heart as well.
I’m glad this blessed you. I want to blog regularly again like I used to do. Writing is my calling… what I am here to do…as you say–giving words to what is being felt and experienced — sharing hope and love and light and joy… Thanks for your encouragement. BTW, did you have a chance to look at what I sent you re the book?