Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Constantly-Breaking Heart

Because of my familial HHN-i (Human Hyper-Nurturer-insoluble) gene (see previous blog post:, I grew up believing that if I mustered enough love, good will, and maybe a home-cooked pot roast, I could “fix” anyone. I’ve learned this isn’t the case. As Mu Sen Peng said, “We’re ALL walking around with broken hearts…the trick is to keep walking.” 

A few people in my life didn’t keep walking. For example, this past week, I inadvertently (thanks to FB) learned of my friend Rex’s death. My old high school BFF’s, Patty and Debbie, have come back from California a couple of times so the three of us could cruise our old Omaha stomping grounds. On each of their trips back, we picked up Rex. Once, we got much of the old gang back together for dinner at the Spaghetti Works in the Old Market, then headed to West O to hear our other friend, George, play some music. Another trip back, we picked up Rex and the four of us hiked the woods of North Omaha, took pictures, and stopped for ice cream. Each time we saw Rex, it was a joy. He was chatty, laughed, showed us all his favorite woodland photo spots, chauffeured us around town, showed off his home studio (he was an amazing bass player), and we reconnected.
The last time we saw Rex was the summer of 2006. I figured he’d always be there—I guess we all did—and that the next time the BFF’s came back to the Midwest, we’d pick up where we left off. But around Christmas in 2008, Rex killed himself in a church parking lot.

There have been others: Brent (suicide), Ike (suicide), Anthony (shot), Dave (decades-long suicide), and more. Then there’s the long list of family members, an even more intense kind of heartbreak. And until the last decade or so, there was always the nagging guilt, wondering what I could have done—send mittens? remember birthdays? weekly phone calls? drag them home to my guestroom? intervention?—to keep them walking.
I’m learning, finally, that people make their own choices. If they reach out, I’ll be right here for them, always. But I know now that my bandaging, cajoling, feeding, hugging, knitting, and boo-boo kissing will not keep someone walking who’s decided to stop. And I used to wait for the pain to go away, but I know now that it never does. Each loss means another hairline fracture. I’m learning to live (LIVE!) with my broken heart, and maybe that’s all any of us can do.

            for all my friends still walking
Midway along this delicate branch,
this hard walk,
we balance above a dark gulf,
the branch’s end obscured
and each day a new thorn
to creep around.
There are easier ways to go.
We could take a deep breath,
lean into the fall with eyes closed.
Or we could hug the branch, stop,
weighed down under
the broken heart of living.
But let’s you and I choose
to inch along with joy
and gratitude so light
it rains like silver glitter
through the leaves.
(thanks to the old gang for the happy pics of Rex)

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