In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens wrote, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” My heart has been on my mind nonstop in the past few months and this statement about an evolving heart speaks to my soul because it is filled with hope. It insinuates that the suffering we all experience in life is like rough sandpaper smoothing wood into something warm and soft. The suffering hurt us, yes, but for a reason, so we can be shaped and made better.
I think it is of universal consensus that the heart is fueled by love, which both keeps us together and tears us apart at the seams. The heart beats wildly and free to the tune of our passions. The mind counter balances this because the things we love are not always the best things for us. When you think about it, the way the mind and the heart work is always tragic for the heart. The mind has the ability to understand that while something fulfills the heart, it might need to be let go. The heart just feels the pain, regardless of how good or bad something may be for it. If it loves it, it aches in the absence of whatever it feels strongly for.
Women and men go back time and time again to toxic relationships because of the irrational desires of the heart. People fall in love with ideas and dreams and when they don’t come to fruition, their dedicated hearts shatter. When a loved one is lost, each beat of the heart is with such heavy and terrible pain that you begin to think if it stopped beating altogether it would be a gift.
It is in this realization that I have formed an appreciation for my own heart and its ability love again and again despite pain, grief and brokenness. Thinking back on my life reveals so many highs followed by deep and dark lows and yet, the heart prevails each time.
When I was young, my heart was playful and kind. Like most little girls, I idolized my mom and loved animals. I was innocent to the ways of the world, the pain and sorrow that come with age and grief. My heart was fragile and sensitive. Kids can be cruel and with each pebble thrown at my heart, it became more understanding of the need to be strong.
As a teenager, my heart felt every single moment. The highs and lows had my heart on a never ending self-centered roller coaster. The lows were the end of the world and the highs were in the clouds but my heart was selfish. I loved my family and my friends but I was careless with the love others gave me. I never cherished another person’s heart the way I cherished my own wants and desires.
At 17, my heart was shattered for the first time. My world crumbled in a tornado made of bad skin cells known as Melanoma. My body betrayed me and my heart and mind couldn’t wrap itself around the reality of the situation. In the following years, my heart was dark and hateful. It became sad and numb, nothing excited it and nothing hurt it.
At 21, my heart was given an electrical shock when I actually fell in love. The kind of love that is blind and all consuming, the kind where you realize that all the turns of life were planned to bring you to that very person. The type of love where you think even if this doesn’t last forever, the fact that it happened at all is the greatest gift of life. My heart actually exploded during these years. My heart was winning. My mind told me to be careful, to be realistic, and to even run at times, but my heart was positive that it was going to stay.
My heart broke and healed in the years following, it grew strong, and it loved fiercely and passionately. It fell in love with God, with helping others, with becoming a better person today than yesterday. My heart grew into something good and big. It feels compassion for those in pain and it gets excited for those in joy. It feels everything so deeply that it is easily bruised but never truly broken. It holds other hearts within its walls and it respects that and protects them.
Recently though, my heart has been in a state of constant ache and worry. It runs in circles and never ending bipolar moments. It feels comforted in the company of others, yet uncomfortable. It aches for the past yet yearns for the future. It swells with the constant kindness of others yet is easily upset and irritated. It searches for an antidote yet shuns anything that numbs the pain. But most of all, it survives. Each day, it survives to see the next, to grow stronger and more loving. It never gives up and it never grows cold and for once in my life I don’t find a loving and sensitive heart a weakness. I find it my best strength.