As my dear friend drove our two families up to Walker Ranch for their quarterly homestead day a few weeks ago, I looked in the backseat at our three sweet and precious boys. Their faces were alive with excitement at the prospect of “going back in time,” as my little one said. Three beautiful, kind, creative, alive boys. The angles of our hearts. And, knowing that we would be driving up a steep and winding road seven miles into the mountains (not my favorite kind of road), an awareness of their vulnerability pierced through me. An awareness that one wrong move, one random boulder, one unaware driver careening on the other side of the road…
“They’re so precious,” I said to my friend. “Why does anyone do this? To love them this much and to know that something could happen to them… sometimes it just feels like too much.”
“I know. Why do you think I’m going gray?”
She’s not going gray, but I know what she means. When the love and worry crescendo into those moments of painful awareness of the risk that accompanies loving, I think, “Why does anyone do this?”
We do it because nature pushes us toward procreation. We do it because of instinct and love and the mysterious and miraculous force that calls us to create new life. We do it because our urge toward life is more powerful than our fear of death. And once we’re in, we’re in so deep that there’s no going back. The love that expands your heart when you become a parent carries you through the rest of your life alongside the worry that accompanies some minute of every day as caregiver for these beloved beings.
Because we’ve all been hurt, it’s not only parents who are challenged with the awareness that with great loving comes the risk of great loss. If you weren’t hurt at home, you were hurt at school. If you weren’t hurt at school, you were hurt in sports. If you weren’t hurt in sports, you were hurt by religion. If you weren’t hurt by religion, you were hurt by a first love. Perhaps the rampant dysfunction in our culture inevitably causes hurt, or maybe getting hurt is simply part of being human. Either way, we begin open and trusting and, somewhere along this road of life, we learn that our hearts can break and shatter. When this occurs, some people make a decision not to open their hearts quite so widely ever again. It hurts too much, they decide. The walls go up and the capacity to experience real love goes down.
But then we’re faced with real relationships that ask for real love. It could be a close friend, a partner, or child, but when we come into contact with someone who is openhearted, who is everything we thought we wanted, something inside of us retracts. The very object of our longing then becomes something painful, and we erect walls of “no” and “don’t” and “not now” to keep our hearts safe and protected inside their wall of unshed tears. Dr. Pat Love explains this phenomena so beautifully in this video:
So we have a choice: to stay behind the wall the protects our vulnerability or to make the courageous choice to open and risk and love and hurt. I hold my little one as he sleeps at night, my arm around his chest so that my right hand cups his heart, and my own heart quickens as I hold his in my hand. His heart in my hand. I remember when our kids were babies and my friends and I would look at each other in wonder at the miracles that lay cushioned in their cotton clothes on our soft beds and say, “Our hearts. Our hearts now walk around outside our bodies.” Nothing has changed. Our kids are now nine and seven and six and four and baby and they are still our hearts, made only more precious by the layers and spirals of love and pain and anger and disappointment that can only grow from time spent in an openhearted relationship where two souls choose to collide.
And we choose to open. We open to our little angels and our big partners. We open to our friends and our families. To open is such an act of courage because we all know, we know in our souls, the searing pain of loss and heartbreak. But we open because to remain closed in a life half-lived, the narrow life that eliminates the risk of loss but also squeezes out the joy. We open because we’re given this privilege of being human and loving full-bodied and warm-blooded can only happen in human form. We open because tears of joy and love are more delicious than the risk of the pain of loss. We choose to risk and then we delight in the richness that can only arise from life fully lived, which means a heart fully open to wide spectrum of feelings and experiences that hearts are meant to feel.