“Toby, there’s something I have to tell you.”
“—— cheated on you.”
I remember exactly what the carpet felt like beneath my open palm. I remember the floral pattern of the futon against the wall in front of me and heat of the summer sun pouring through the window. I remember the baffling feeling of numbness that trailed me for days—maybe weeks.
The phone call came in August, nearly a year ago at the time of this writing.
I think the earth shattered a little bit that day—for me. (Lay aside your views on cheating, monogamy and relationships for a moment, and replace with your own earth-shattering scenario if necessary.)
Everything changed. And that’s not a cliché, because it truly did. Everything.
My plans to head back to East Africa once my visit to my family was over. My plans to move with him to Europe, or back to the U.S.—or anywhere. My entire conception of my future life. The shape of my heart. The certainty of the ground beneath me.
I hopped off my return flight in Amsterdam, and flew to Italy instead. Before you get too excited, there was nothing Eat. Pray. Love. about it. I made my way to a small Sicilian town, and then another, and over the weeks that followed, I started to write.
Words flowed like tears, like blood; through them, I came to understand my pain, my anger and my grief.
And slowly—very, very slowly—I began to shift.
The sky opened.
For the first time, I think I understood the power of a broken heart.
Carting my backpack (my life) and my laptop (my work), I wandered through eight countries—Italy, England, Sweden, Finland, Holland, South Africa, Uganda, Israel—getting back in touch with my nomadic soul. Now, back in Italy, I allow myself to reflect on those first days, to shed new tears for myself in that moment.
Beginning there, in those anonymous Sicilian streets, I became brave in my vulnerability, giving my story away freely to strangers and friends. I didn’t hide my heartbreak or bafflement; I harnessed it—or tried to.
The volume, the intensity of the connections that came of this practice still have me reeling.
My friend’s neighbor who looked me in the eyes and saw my truth written across them—and showed me his. The stranger in the airport who offered his story when I offered mine. The myriad of humans who emerged from the woodwork to hold me, bolster me and encourage my budding pair of new wings.
I embraced transparency, grace, fearlessness and joy as the underpinnings of my journey moving forward, and those themes show no sign of slackening.
In a way, I’m not as strong as I was before. I know just how uncertain my certainties are. I know how woefully unprotected my heart is. And yet, I think—maybe—I’m stronger, too. I welcome risk. I jump, knowing that the ground may or not be there when I land. I don’t shy away from fear.
I (try to) open myself to everything, and most of the time, everything opens right back.
I could tell you so many things that you have heard before. About how endings are really beginnings. About how light sneaks in through the cracks and how scars are beautiful.
Because it’s true. That is all gloriously true.
But more than that, I want to say this:
Pain is a tool, and it is a powerful one.
When our hearts break, we can close them back together and seal them with cement—or we can leave them open.
There are seeds of joy in everything. When the earth shatters—a little bit—those seeds can find soil in which to grow. All we have to do is water them.
I found my water; I don’t know what yours is, but I know, absolutely, that it exists.
There is a reason the symbol of the phoenix captivates us still.
There is a reason we love the lotus.
We, too, have wings that open when we least expect it.
We, too, grow out of—in spite of, because of—challenges.
We, too, will always rise.
“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Author’s Own // UD Misi/Flickr