My brother and I used to joke to one another, “When you least expect it, expect it.” It was our way of reminding each other that we would not be giving up on getting our revenge for some real or imagined insult. Of course, the reality is one can’t live on such high alert at all times, and the surprise is certain to catch us off guard.
Grief is like that. You might be driving your car on a beautiful autumn day, no clouds in the sky, singing along to a love song on the radio, and suddenly it is as if a cloak has been slung across your shoulders. Darkness enters and despite the intellectual knowledge that all is well today, all is in the place it should be, you are cast upon the waves of an emotion that is stronger than you. You can’t run from it, and if you try to avoid it for too long, it will catch you when you least expect it.
It is a frightening thing to recognize that one has little control and cannot hide from what is unpleasant or uncomfortable forever. Eventually all the heartbreaking, nasty, diseased and worrisome emotions need to come out if you are to ever heal and move forward and claim anything that looks like a real life.
Like many, I am still learning this lesson the hard way. Once my divorce hearing was over,my agreement signed and notarized, the decisions made and the unknown became known, I believed I was all done. And, perhaps in many ways I was. But, what grabbed a hold of my shoulders and wrestled me to the ground came in such an unexpected and unanticipated fashion that I was left reeling. I had opened my heart again.
That was when the dam broke. For the truth of the matter is, when in pain, we try to numb ourselves, we let the darkness in a little at a time, at a pace our psyches can manage without immobilizing us for too long.
I have never been so terrified or agonized over anything quite the way I have over whether or not to open my heart again.
When you block feelings for years, when you deny who you are for years, when you pretend that you don’t care for years, feeling again can only be compared to flipping on every floodlight in a small city simultaneously. If the power surge doesn’t short out all the emotions, the glare can be blinding. And, you can’t decide which feeling you want to hold on to. In addition to the hopeful and joyful sensations come the doubt, worry, terror and anxiety. What if the same thing happens all over again? What if pain returns?
I would like to write this column imploring everyone in a state of doubt to consider opening their heart just once more. It is the common wisdom after all. But now that I am the one reeling in such a torment of emotion, I’m not certain that is the best advice for all. I don’t think there is a right answer for all. There are those far wiser than I that say timing is everything, but anyone with a shred of humanity knows that timing is not always in our control.
I can’t subscribe to the notion of holding back because it isn’t in my nature. I just don’t seem to have an in-between button. And this is perhaps my greatest curse, though there are those that tell me it is also a virtue. All I know is that we humans are imperfect, flawed creatures and do the best we can. It is late in the game for me to learn this, but there is no roadmap, no beaten path that will lead me to the right place. It is trial and error, and for me, right now error seems to be holding strong. I cannot say I will ever open my heart again. I cannot say I won’t. Like so many in my shoes, I can only say that for now it needs to remain inside a box, wrapped and sealed tight, the ultimate destination unclear. There must be a light at the end of the tunnel glimpsed before hope ever dares to beckon that delicate beating organ into the world of the living again.