Monday, February 16, 2015

Voices of Experience: Growing A New Heart

by Harry Proudfoot

Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.  ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey

Jane and I loved house plants in the winter. They brightened things. Jane got into creating topiaries at one point and created a heart from an old coat hanger and an English ivy. When Jane was in the hospital, I rarely got home, but when I did I made sure everything got a good drink. When I came home after she died, we had lost just one of the plants--the topiary heart. The symbolism was not lost on me.

But in another pot there was a single tiny sprig of ivy that had survived. I took the heart frame and moved it into that pot. I have tended it carefully since then.

Forty-nine months after Jane's death that single strand has grown to cover 4/5s of that frame. It is not as dense as it was when Jane was alive--that will take a couple of circuits--but it has nearly filled the frame. I tell myself my heart will finally be healed, perhaps, when that frame is filled again with green life. A couple more sprigs have appeared in that pot. Eventually, they will grow long enough to join that first strand and strengthen that heart.

Not long before Jane's cancer came to light, I was reading a story about the Dragonriders of Pern. One of the Riders loses his dragon and the children ask why he is so sad. They are told that if a man or woman loses their dragon they lose half their heart. One of the children tasks how long it takes for the missing piece of heart to grow back. None of the adults have an answer.

When Jane died, I suddenly knew what it was to have only half a heart--and I had no idea how long it would take for that piece of my heart to grow back--or if it would do so at all. That silly topiary tells me each day how to regrow my heart--and reminds me every day that it is possible. It takes patience and careful tending--but it can be done.

I don't expect ever to love again in the way that I loved Jane. But I know that, some day, my heart will be fully healed. It will not be the same as it was before. There will be scar tissue there that is never quite right. A part of me is dead and beyond recovery. But I will grow strong again and I will love again. Truth be told, I have never stopped loving--even in the worst hours of grief. I will love Jane until I die--and even then I will still love her.

And I will love the world and every creature in it--because I always have. The pain of loss makes us forget our true nature at times--but forgetting does not mean that nature vanishes or ceases to be. When we are born, the agony of birth makes us forget where we came from. But that pain does not leave us empty of who we are, nor does it change where we came from or where we will go.

Jane's death cost me a great deal. It has taxed me physically, mentally and emotionally to the limits of my strength--and sometimes it has seemed like beyond that. And it still hurts--hurts more than anyone who has not had a similar loss can know. But it has made me a better man than I was. It has made me more compassionate, more patient and more driven to be of help than I was before. I understand now things that I really only knew in theory before--as much as I truly believed I understood them.

We each have a road to walk and things to endure. We learn from every thing and every being we encounter--and from every experience. Jane paid a hideous price for the knowledge she gained from her illness--and I have paid a hideous price for what I learned from losing her and what I have faced every day since. I cannot dishonor her sacrifice or my own by turning my back on what I have learned--or by failing to share those things with those who need that knowledge.

I have learned what it takes to love those around you when what you really want to do is hate them for the things they still have that you do not--and that you will never likely have again. I have learned what it takes to hold a broken soul in your hands and will it back to life and health. And I have learned, again, to let the dying go. Most importantly, I have learned what it is--and what it takes--to grow a new heart.

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