This morning as I sit with the magnitude of a romantic relationship changing course, receding and reshaping itself into what, we do not know, I’m struck mostly by how we associate our hearts with this romantic love—love for one another.
How we can feel so abandoned when we forget to feed ourselves.
In the namesake essay for her collection of amazing advice columns, “Tiny Beautiful Things”, Cheryl Strayed writes a letter to her younger self. She says:
You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.
This morning I am brave enough. Just barely.
I sit with the knowledge that this is all a part of our unfolding, of our becoming, and I smile looking at the painting he made here beside me. It is so beautiful, not so much for the art itself, but for what it represents: our ability to create beauty from a blank page.
Cheryl continues, You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.
But how we linger at every dam, each impasse and braid in the river, waiting for our lover to catch up or slow down, wondering what will be. We must let the current carry us. No one quite knows what the journey will be, only that eventually we return to where we came from. And we must sit with the discomfort, shine our light on it fully.
In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about soul mates:
People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.
But to live with you soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful.
Then Cheryl: Acceptance is a small, quiet room.
That night after we talked and cried and said words of love with our goodbyes, we went to Kirtan. The woman led the handful of us through chants with two guitars and we sat crosslegged next to one another as we made music. For the last song, the woman gathered us into a circle and asked us all to hold hands. She showed us the sidestep we’d use and how we’d spin around at each chorus. The chant was simple: “The ocean refuses no river. Hallelujah!”
There are moments in life when, sitting still, you feel the whole universe flow through you, when you recognize that we are indeed oceans and rivers and the channels of stars.
You see, too, that the path to healing is an inward one, and that there is wonder and beauty and adventure there.
Like me, you will find that there is also sadness. Sit with that too. Honor everything and open to it all. As the poet Galway Kinnell once wrote:
…angels shiver to know down here we mortals make love with our bones.
We are lucky to know pleasure and pain, to know in our bones what love feels like—to give love, to receive love, to let go of those we love. This is what we humans do, even when it hurts, even when we’re breaking our own hearts, we must have the courage to go on, the courage to feel the love that will light our way.
Galway knows this too. He is a poet, afterall. He closes his ode to the heart and the “music of grace that we hear, sometimes, playing from the other side of happiness” with these words:
But when I hear
coming through the walls
that the two hearts drummed
out of their ribs together,
the hearts that know everything (and even
the little knowledge they can leave
stays, to be the light of this house),
then it is not so difficult
to go out, to turn and face
the spaces which gather into one sound the singing
of mortal lives, waves of spent existence
which flow toward, and toward, and on which we flow
and grow drowsy and become fearless again.
Bon voyage—may our ships be the brightest stars in the sky.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emma Ruffin