A Broken Heart

I don’t remember where I first heard the quote “a broken heart is an open heart” but I’ve been reflecting on it a lot this past week.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s suicides are heartbreaking – they both left behind young children, and thinking about them, about how they are going to cope with losing a parent in such a tragic way, takes my breath away.  

I have nothing but empathy for both of their struggles – like so many people I know, I struggled with clinical depression in my early 20s.  I remember too well the feelings of utter hopelessness, the sense that nothing would get better and that I would be better off not living.  I remember walking by a river in Lyon, France where I was studying abroad and thinking I should end it all – which gives me chills today, to remember how dark things had become, that I actually believed there was no hope, that things would never get better.

By the grace of God, with the love and support of family and friends, a lot of really good therapy and medication, I got better.  I got better and I am deeply thankful – that there is hope and that depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There is always hope.

I talked to a colleague this week who got a cancer diagnosis two months after graduating college and starting her new job at Google.  She studied public health in college, and she talked about how going through chemo opened her eyes to what it’s like to be a patient, and gave her new wells of empathy and understanding she never would have had otherwise.  I was stunned by her ability to view her experience that way, and told her so. That capacity to find the hope and the beauty in tragedy, to open your heart to more deeply care for those around you instead of shutting it down out of fear or anger or bitterness at the hand life has dealt you – that is the most brave and beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

I’ve come to realize over the years that the most beautiful people I know are the ones who have been through the most heartbreaking tragedies.

My best friend lost her mom when she was two years old.  She grew up without a mom, and now to watch her parent her three children is to be in the presence of the most loving, patient, gracious mama I’ve ever seen.  I watch her as she talks to her kids, listens to them with love and kindness and a truly divine amount of patience [I love those munchkins but they are a handful!!] and it is a beautiful thing.  Those kids will never know a day of their lives that they aren’t sure, deep in the marrow of their bones, that they are loved unconditionally, unequivocally, forever and always.  They are loved and delighted in the way God intended for us all to be loved – and I don’t know what greater gift a parent can give, what greater gift any of us can give to one another.  She is giving her children what she didn’t have – a mother’s fierce and tender love – and it is a beautiful thing to bear witness to.

My dear friend Liz lost her mom to cancer when she was 16 – she had to walk through an experience that would break most adults when she was just a teenager.  To be with her is to experience Life with a capital L. She is a fount of “Lizdom,” deep and wise and hilarious and joyful – every time I talk to her there is both laughter and tears – the hallmark of the very best kind of conversations. She was the one who initiated me into the Dead Parents Club [our motto is “you laugh so you don’t cry”] and was my guide navigating the weird and hard realities of losing a parent at a young age.  Together we brainstormed how to respond to the question “where do your parents live?” and how not to punch someone in the face when they complained about their [loving, kind and very much alive] parents wanting to spend time with them.  Liz is a radiant, deep, wonderful person not in spite of her loss but in many ways because of it – it has shaped and molded her into this beautiful person I am blessed to call my friend.

My mom cared for her mom [my grandma] for over 10 years as she struggled w/ Alzheimer’s, flying up to Washington state twice a year to take her to her doctor’s appointments, until she passed away in 2003.   My dad was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2008, and died later that year from a heart attack, leaving my mom without her husband of 28 years.  A few years later, after flying back and forth often to upstate NY to help care for him, she lost her brother.  These losses didn’t make her bitter – if anything they only increased the depth of her love, her ability to care for those around her. My mom is one of the most loving, kind, generous-of-spirit people I know. She is always looking for opportunities to give of herself – her time, her attention, her energy, her hard work.  She gives and gives and when she’s done she gives some more. People tell me often that I look like her or sound like her – I pray w/ all my heart I’ll be as generous as her someday, giving without a second thought.

I could keep going, listing people I love who have struggled with miscarriages and losing children and abusive family relationships and sexual assault and all sorts of grief and loss and pain – and have chosen to keep their hearts open, to grieve and rage and feel all of the feelings, yes absolutely, and also to allow their hearts to be enlarged by suffering, not made smaller.

They say you become like the people you spend the most time with, and when I look around at the people in my life, I pray to God that’s true.  Because I am surrounded by people who have endured great loss and pain, and have emerged from it stronger and more tender, beautiful of spirit, with a deep empathy and love for those around them and a deep compassion for the world.

Life is short and precious, and weeks like these, with headlines of tragic deaths and lives cut short too soon, are reminders of that.

Father’s Day is this Sunday, and I know I’m not the only one who approaches this day with a heavy heart.  I know so many people who are missing their dads this week, who were deeply blessed to have a loving, close relationship with them,  and that the hole that leaves brings pain.  I know many others whose father is still living, but they mourn all the same – for a father who couldn’t or didn’t love them the way they deserved, who wasn’t there, present in their loves, cheering them on.  That wound, that pain, of what could have been but wasn’t, stings too.

As much as it hurts, I’m trying to remember that the blessing of a broken heart is that it’s an open one-  open to dwelling more deeply with the suffering of others, open to deeply treasuring the beauty of the world all the more because there is also pain, open to loving with more courage and boldness because we know the days are short, and that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.  So instead of running away from the pain, I’m going to lean into it, and let the brokenness become a conduit for more grace, more gratitude, and most of all for more love.

Home

I spent the past eleven days traveling around Paris and London, and it was delightful – as in chock full of delights.  I wandered aimlessly around the streets of Paris, discovering charming cobblestoned streets and picturesque alleyways at every turn.  I sat in cafes sipping cafe cremes and enjoying perfect baguettes and watching the world go by.  I had drinks at the Ritz with my roommates, which turned into drinks at the Hemingway bar, complete with a full rose decorating the side of each cocktail.  I sat in a charming London theatre theatre watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the best part was the little girl to my left, chatting with her mom at intermission about what she thought would happen next, and the little girl to my right, cuddled up with her dad and declaring after the play was over that it had been the best birthday ever, and that she wanted to a be a writer when she grew up #feels.

As in all of my life, the highlights of my trip were the people  – making funny faces for selfies in a charming English garden with 18-month old Caleb, savoring late night Nutella crepes in a cafe with my dear friend Stephanie as a warm summer thunderstorm rained down outside, waving at my roomie’s mama on FaceTime as we wandered along the Seine.  Thanks to the magic of Instagram, I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen since college, and got to meet her precious baby girl, Mathilda, as close to a living doll as you can get.  I had dinner with the very first person I ever worked with at Google when I started nearly four years ago.  I sat in a living room sipping tea with my Airbnb hosts, a couple who is American [him] and British [her] and talked nonstop for two hours about Mormonism, British culture, losing parents, dating and how to build a life of meaning and love.

I am grateful beyond words for these experiences.  I know that having the ability to travel is a privilege – I am deeply grateful for the gift of the means and health and time to fly across the world, make precious memories with people I love, and meet new, amazing people who open my eyes to new ways of thinking and being in the world.  To me the ultimate gift of travel is summed up in one word – perspective.  Perspective on my own life, as I step away from the day to day, and can see the forest for the trees. It’s like all of beautiful works of art I saw in Paris and London – sometimes you need to step back to see the full picture #pun intended.   It was perspective on my own life, yes, but also on the fact that there as many ways to make a life as there are people in the world  – and being reminded of that is a breath of fresh air

Paris was full of hipster barber shops and man buns and apparently veganism is all the rage in London, which made me smile – I feel like I was back home in San Francisco.  Both cities were full of clothing stores, Mexican restaurants and acai bowl/smoothie joints advertising the “California lifestyle” – it was ironic, that I lived in a tourist destination and was leaving it to come there.  A good reminder that the grass is always greener.

A friend left a message on one of my many besotted  “I heart London” Instagram posts, teasing me that it looked like I had found my happy place and wasn’t coming back.  My response was unequivocal – London is lovely, but it’s not my home.  I remember when I decided to leave NYC – after years of blood, sweat and tears building a life there my best friend [one of my “sisters by another mister” as I lovingly refer to my dearest friends] was about to have her first baby back in California.  There’s no amount of charming city life that can compete with that. Home is where your people are.

Last year I wandered the streets of Paris and daydreamed about moving there – about how much richer and fuller and better my life would be if only I lived somewhere else.  This year I woke up on my last day in London like a kid on Christmas morning and thought “I get to go home today!!” and felt pure joy.  That is a gift.

I’m deeply grateful for travel, for the gift of exploring this big, beautiful world and I’m even more grateful for a home I can’t wait to come back to.  It was magical and surreal running around Hyde Park – and I can’t wait to wake up tomorrow and do my standard three mile loop around Dolores Park, where the view from the top of the hill catches my breath in my chest every time  [literally and figuratively – that is a steep hill!!]. It was such fun sampling every croissant in Paris and scone in London, but I can’t wait to get back to my lovely Google kale salads and homemade sweet potato bowls.  It was a treat meeting new people, and having time by myself to wander and explore –  but I can’t wait to sit on the couch next to my roommate and in my cubicle with my buddies at work and across the bar table at happy hour with my dear friends and talk to the people I know and love, to catch up on their lives and hear what they’ve been up to, to share laughter and tears and connect deeply because those are the experiences that full up my heart.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I want out of life – what I am willing to give up and what I’m not, what sacrifices and trade offs I’m willing to make.  At the end of the day, what I want most is a life of depth and meaning – and I find meaning in relationships, in pouring love into people’s lives and receiving that love right back.

So I am thankful for my trip, and I have no shortage of funny stories and beautiful pictures and lovely memories to show for it.  But I am one hundred times more grateful for a home to come back to –  for a life to come back to.  And that is worth more to me than all Berthillon ice cream in the world [and that’s really saying something because OH MY GOSH that ice cream was delicious].