Friday, April 19, 2013

The Human Heart

I am just a little frightened by the violence of the human heart.

I am out here on a road, with human hearts veering out of all reason, with no seeming sense of the power of the vehicles they drive, splashing twisted metal across the news as they break themselves and everyone around.  And I am in here: in this body, behind the wheel of my own human heart, where, occasionally out out on the road, I think, "Damn, I'm not sure how to drive this thing." I seem to lurch suddenly, when I was sure I had this down. Smooth sailing it is not.

And, reading the news with my morning cup of coffee, raising my family, I don't want to keep watching the world or myself make the same kinds of mistakes. I want us to grow up and learn something. "I can't bear to live through anything like another post-9/11," I think. I think it and catch the edge of bitterness in my thought.

Right now, I am teaching two of my children history. I believe in honesty. I believe in honesty, because lies about history are dangerous, dangerous things, but I also believe that I need to pass on a world that my children will ultimately believe can be good. To do this well requires thought. "The Americans...," my Native American son has taken to saying with a certain tone of anger in his voice. And this may well bother somebody, but that fact that he feels this way, to my mind, simply means that he is paying attention, that he is imaginative, and that he has absorbed compassion and can place himself in the shoes of  people living long ago. I think this reaction speaks well of him.

"But you are American," I told him."America is all of us. It is the descendants of the white slave owners and the the slaves and the Natives who lived here first. It is the descendants of all the immigrants who've landed on this shore since then. It includes the parts of America that used to be Mexico, and the Mexicans that have come here since looking for a better life. It is everyone. And the history of America is not just the history of what was done to the slaves and the Indians. It is the history of their resistance and their survival and the history of the abolitionists that said this wasn't right. This country began as a slave-holding country and soon, we will recognize gay marriage. We are getting better as our country gets older. American history is the history of that. And you can be very proud of that history."

"OK," he said, and he looked a little less piqued.

And yet, the fits and starts as we jerk around can make me a little ill. I am older and I am done being horrified by history, but I am not being horrified by the present. And I am not willing to be done, because the fact that I'm horrified means that I'm paying attention, that I'm imaginative, and that I have absorbed compassion and can imagine, at least in part, what it is to be a Newtown parent as Congress squelches discussion of gun control or a bystander watching the world explode at the Boston Marathon. I don't want to stop looking, and I don't want to lose myself. I am not always sure what it is in my power to do. Sometimes, it feels like not a lot.

I have decided that my primary sphere of influence is my own community. So, if I'm to learn to steer this human heart, my primary work is here, where I already am. That is why I try not to look away. I let myself be moved by the world. I let myself speak about being moved. I try to listen. I try not to make wedges but bridges, when I can remember to do that. I am, every moment, practicing my values to my children and to my Facebook friends, to my family, to my cat, if he will listen to me. That is all I know how to do. When I don't, I get a little smaller—make a self that's a little narrower and has a membrane that is designed to keep invaders, and a lot of beauty, out. So, I try—at least I try not to look away in the face of suffering, and I try not to let it make me hard, but to let my heart be soft, which means that rather than being angry, I am sometimes sad.

This week, I am sad and horrified, just like my son. And I think that's what I'm supposed to be.

Last week was golden. This week is sad. It's just that it goes this way. I have the luxury of saying this, since no one in my life has died or had their leg amputated, and no one in my life died in Newtown either and so I can walk away from the news and go back to chickens and children and things that seem to have stayed the same. But nothing stays the same. Not even here. Last week was golden, and this week is sad. And it goes this way, and I will not turn away.

The world—and my world, too—can keep on having my human heart.


  1. I am struggling so much with this week. I am again tempted to say "screw it all" and go live in a cabin somewhere without TV or cell reception. Becoming a hermit is not the answer, but sometimes it seems like it would be easier than allowing my heart to be broken again and again.

    I like the way you describe teaching history. I, too, feel a distaste, a frustration, downright anger when I learn the truth of the past. I find myself starting to be ashamed of my skin color, of my heritage, knowing how cruel "the white man" has been.

    There is so much good in people. I think the immediate availability and communication of information about events *as they're happening* paints a picture that is complex in its bleakness and simultaneous beauty.

    And I thank my lucky stars that I have the luxury to turn it off and go to work to find out just where my cheese has moved to.

    This piece brought me to tears because it flies in the face of me wanting to withdraw. It reminds me that we all need real human connection. It inspires me to keep looking for and cultivating it.

    It also makes me wish I could sit at your kitchen table with a cup of coffee and talk about it and give you a big ol hug.

    Thank you, Tara.

    1. I have nothing to say, but thank you and thank you again for all you said here. :)

  2. 'But nothing stays the same.' That's one truth I had such a hard time with growing up. Change, (friends graduating, moving, my friend's mother dying), was very hard for me. Now, our children have such a higher level of 'change', hopefully, it'll make them more resilient and strong. Heaven knows they're going to need it.

    1. It is SO hard to face the changing and breaking of things. I'm sensitive to my kids and especially my youngest,as to what exactly he needs to know, but I do endeavor to let them see the world in all its brokenness so they can learn to love it that way, instead of having to pretend it's perfect and be terribly disappointed that it's not. I think when we can remember the power we personally have to do good, this makes us powerful—kids and adults alike. Otherwise, we just feel paralyzed. And those moments of paralysis are part of the whole picture, too.

  3. Beautiful! You eloquently expressed how I've been feeling all week. Added financial stresses and a feeling that I've completely overbooked myself and I'm trying too hard to do too many things has left me grouchy, irritable, and unable to find compassion and a feeling of nurturing towards my own loved ones this past week. I kept finding myself filled with sadness, feeling overwhelmed, and completely at a loss of how to feel in control. Posts like this help a little, to sort through those things that matter, and to understand that some things we just can't control.

    Thank you!

    1. I had a week like that, too. Spring break was wonderful, and I got a lot of peaceful writing done. I felt rekindled for the world. And then the poison letters and the bombs and the Senate and my youngest son not doing anything I asked and an issue with my teenager. I was in a ton of physical pain, and I felt thoroughly challenged in every way, as to whether or not I could actually maintain any sense of peace. And I think it just goes like that. We're learning. When we are done, we will be dead.

  4. I think there is great value in people with soft hearts being willing and able to bear witness to even the harshest realities of our world. To put their thoughts and feelings out there in beautifully written prose. Knowing that there are other hearts out there feeling the way we do is a tremendous comfort. I hope you will keep that in mind when you're feeling like what you can do is not a lot.


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