Discover more from Human Stuff from Lisa Olivera
To break open and never close
Staying wide when collapsing feels easier
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A song I’m loving:
I read the news; my heart breaks.
I witness my daughter leave behind one stage of life for a new one; my heart breaks.
I get a text from someone I love sharing something difficult; my heart breaks.
I accidentally step on a ladybug; my heart breaks.
I miss them (so many people and places and animals); my heart breaks.
Time moves too quickly; my heart breaks.
I read the news again; my heart breaks.
More hurricanes, more floods, more fires; my heart breaks.
The forgetting of what actually matters; my heart breaks.
Externalized pain mistaken for hatred; my heart breaks.
They’re sleeping on the side of the freeway; my heart breaks.
I held my beloved cat during his last breath; my heart breaks.
People are hungry even though there is plenty of food; my heart breaks.
Legislation ignores humanity; my heart breaks.
Things change, end, come to a close; my heart breaks.
I read the news again; my heart breaks.
I think my heart broke for the first time when I was just a few hours old and my birth mother left — maybe it broke in the womb, somehow knowing the separation was coming soon — I think it’s been open since then, even when I’ve learned the art of building walls, the precision of pretending, the act of pushing down, the practice of ignoring, bypassing, minimizing, lying. My heart’s been broken since it first broke open. It hasn’t ever closed. I tried closing it with cigarettes and drugs, with hiding, with avoiding, with faking it til I make it. I tried closing it with performative positivity, with assuming the role of helper, with convincing myself I have more control than I do. I tried closing it with perpetual optimism, with the refusal to acknowledge what was true. I tried closing it with leaving too soon. I tried closing it with staying too long. I tried closing it until, at some point in my late 20’s/early 30’s, I realized closing it was never the ask, or the need. And I’ve been learning how to live with a wide open heart ever since.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs tending.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs witnessing.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs space.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs un-aloneness.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs reverence.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs boundaries.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs permission.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs holding.
An open heart doesn’t need closing; it needs recognition.
An open heart doesn’t need closing.
I used to think my open heart was the problem. I thought it was weak or flimsy, like it should be able to just take it all, forget it all, sprinkle a glimmering saying over it all and move on, forge forward, orient toward the good constantly. I wanted to be able to control it like I was a machine operator and it was a machine under my precise direction, under my wise guidance, like I was larger than life and all I needed was to figure out the right buttons to press in order to keep it contained, solid, together, like I knew better than what my heart was actually so wisely and preciously attuned to.
There are a lot of awful things happening in the world. Things that make me want to rage and scream and cry in the middle of the road so everyone will just stop pretending and look, say something, do something. Are we all sleepwalking, I wonder? What are we even doing? Are we all just going along like normal because everyone else seems to be? This, of course, happens right alongside all the glorious, awe-inducing things, all the mundane and boring things, all the things silently brewing that we have no clue are on the way. And I am doing my best to keep my heart open to all of it. Every last bit. Every last shred. I’m doing my best to say of course my heart is broken open, rather than assuming it’s a personal flaw or failing.
I want to stay open. Open is alive. I want to stay present. Present is alive. I want to stay with the hurt. Hurt is alive. I want to stay on the ground. On ground is alive. I want to look. Looking is alive. I want to pay attention. Attention is alive. I want to witness. Witnessing is alive. I want to feel it. Feeling is alive. I want to be with. Being is alive.
And sometimes, open sucks. Open hurts. Open is inconvenient and exposing, harsh and uncertain. Open is looking at the faces of the parents who lost their child in a school shooting. Open is sitting with the fear of my trans friends. Open is the confrontation of what is out of my control, and what I’m avoiding that I actually do have a say in. Open is the truth, and the truth isn’t always easy to sit with.
Somatics practitioner and writer Prentis Hemphill recently asked, “Can we say it? Can we say we’re afraid yet?” and I think more of us are saying what’s true now. Having an open heart is scary — looking honestly at what’s going on is scary — noticing the decaying around us is scary. Facing the facade is scary. I’m scared.
Yet being open to what’s true is the only way we can also stay open to the truth of love, the truth of connection, the truth of our values, the truth of what we desire and seek, the truth of finding ourselves again and again, the truth of imagination, the truth of taking the next step, making the next move, and admitting all we’ll never know.
A broken heart is a testimony. It is a salve. A healing agent. A broken heart is the signature of the willingness to look. To notice. To pay attention not just to the things that bring awe but to the things that feel raw. To take in what is being done, being asked, being looked over. To say the thing that needs to be said. To do what needs doing. To stop ignoring what’s obvious in favor of what’s easy. To let joy in when it’s there, too. To let love soak up our tender spots. To go toward what matters instead of performing what sells, what gets likes. To act. To move. To empathize. To respond. To witness, acknowledge, see clearly. To fucking feel. To offer care by not looking away.
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing.,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
— Lead by Mary Oliver
May we let our hearts break open and never close again to the rest of the world.
May we let our open hearts hold both the magnificence and the disgust.
May we acknowledge what it takes to not turn away, to not numb out.
May we let ourselves take a step back from feeling it all when needed.
May we rely on the hearts around us to tether to when it’s all too much.
May we stop assuming heartbreak is a sign we’re not healed enough.
May we let heartbreak be a signal of aliveness, of being willing to look.
May we surrender to what is true and soften there when we can.
May we notice where we’re hardened and let the thaw happen slowly.
May we find what we need to stay rooted to what matters.
May we choose to hone our broken hearts with care, with nurturance, with love.
May we let our open hearts take in all the beauty that exists here, too.
Just sharing some of my broken heart today — some of my open heart, my enraged heart, my alive heart, my grieving heart, my heart holding onto and imagining what else is possible, somehow all at once. It’s just like this sometimes — and other times, it isn’t so much. Learning to tend to all of it is self-compassion in action; learning to accept it all is humanity in process.
Thank you, as always, for being here.
△ This reminder I wrote for myself:'s travel memoir is out tomorrow!!!
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