Craig and I were reminiscing the other day over an older couple that we know, whose children are grown and each pursuing a different dream or lifestyle somewhere on the globe – those who are still living, that is. I have to wonder at the resilience of these two, at how they function in a capable and composed manner - how they even so much as form complete sentences - as so many pieces of their hearts are scattered across the country.
In what feels to be a cruel sort of emotional Ironman, we meet people, form deep and meaningful relationships with them, and then, often by necessity, learn to let them go. These individuals may be children: met en utero or at birth or when brought into your family for the first time. They may be parents: blood-related or adoptive, actual or surrogate, to your flesh or to your soul. These people may be friends or mates, who have come into your life – haphazardly / in perfect timing /who you never expected – and have become as deep and connected to you as a foreign tree branch grafted into your trunk.
Part and parcel.
One and the same.
And so your heart swells in size to make room for this new life, this new friendship, this new love.
And without realizing it is happening, as your heart grows, little bits of it become attached to these people, like the bits are coated with tiny Velcro hooks or pine pitch or that really sticky glue that packaging companies use to put the labels on pickle jars. And just like that, right under your nose, someone has walked away with a piece of your heart. It could happen whether or not you grant your permission. It will likely take place completely under your radar. And you will be left in the wake of what it means to love.
It both a divine and terrible thing, to love: to feel the swells of joy at knowing and being known, and also the debilitating reality in the risk of loss and fear of separation. Yet, we cannot have the first without the second. There is no other way. As we grow up, we are faced with this reality, and with the subsequent choice: to adopt the terms of risk and wrestle with its fear for the sake of knowing the incredible freedom of love and community, or to forsake the latter so that we will never required be to experience the former.
For some, this risk is too great. It includes the risk of rejection, and the possibility of being left behind or worse yet, left alone. And so, some individuals choose the safety of a tight circle, of close borders and small wagers. One may prove to be happy enough with these circumstances, but the heart’s call for companionship is as persistent as the suspicion that there may be much more to life beyond those tight confines.
To modify the common saying: little wagered, little gained.
For others – for many of us, I would guess - we battle daily to see above and beyond the risk and fear toward the beautiful mess of human connection. The challenges we face are great, but the triumphs of love are even more extraordinary, and as we experience knowing and being known, we learn to see more clearly that truly, any wager we make in the name of friendship is microscopic in comparison with our gain. Upon this realization, we dare to connect once more; we dare to throw down another bet onto the table in favor of love.
And that’s how you end up, like me, with little bits of your heart in places like Washington state and Illinois and Florida. How you have a specifically-shaped void from a piece that was plucked from this world, and how the journey to reach others who are far flung can seem as insurmountable as walking to the moon. As painful as it is to have these people so far away - like the pronounced throbbing from a recent wound – let us be reminded of something downright miraculous. When we have sent our love to so many scattered places, not only will our heart beat on, but also like the story of those five loaves and two fish, we will continue to have enough of it to go around. When you meet that someone new - at school, or church, or your favorite microbrewery, or in a hospital room, handed to you by a large grumpy physician wearing purple - you will have enough love for that person, and upon meeting them, one more piece of your heart will quietly slip off to it’s new charge.
I promise you, it is not a trade. You do not need to lose an old friend for the sake of a new one. You are not bound to stop loving your father because you now have a son, or your friend because you have a mate. In the words of a favorite song of mine, love grows more love, and in fact, one relationship will often enhance another. Many will benefit.
Milo and Jessa, being spectacular, or rather, themselves.
When I picture Craig, or Milo or my dear friend Jessa, who is three thousand aching miles away, I feel great love for them. But as the shadow of fear approaches, and I stand facing the risk of impermanence and the length of the journey to reach my friends, I remind myself, as I remind you: Love is worth it.
Though fear can have terrible strength, and bear heavy clouds of uncertainty,
Love is worth it.
Though the risk of loss can be overwhelming and threaten you with loneliness,
Love is worth it.
Though the distance can carry profound weight and your longing may need to stretch farther than you think can bear,
Love is worth it.
As we learn to love, you and I are forced to learn the skill of letting go. If we believe that one is possible without the other, we are wrong, because the resulting product will not be love, but rather possession. When we love truly, we are, in a sense, handing someone wings. Love is an investment and an encouragement – an affirmation that you are valued – and as such, will likely propel you or your friend/child/parent/lover into a perpetual state of exploration and positive risk taking. Of rising to the challenge and living in full. This is what healthy love and true friendship looks like. Possession, the destructive charlatan that it is, will do no such things. It will promise fulfillment for its owner, but leave only a small list of questionable companions and relationships ruled by fear and control and layered in deceit. This is not the way, friend. The suspicion of our hearts is correct: there is so much more for us than a thing that small.
So let us choose wisely – to risk it all for the sake of something that is immeasurable and beautiful and alive.
Learn to let go. Graft in new branches. Propel those you love forward. And as you walk through this, and bits of your heart become far flung, do not be afraid. Resist the urge to pick up the pieces.
Let your heart be
and you will somehow find it whole.