I’m like the Grinch.
September 27, Dr. D called and told me I had cancer and my heart grew three sizes that day.
It had already been growing exponentially since May while my family faced a private pain, since 2015, since living abroad, since loving refugees.
I don’t think my heart was as small as the Grinch’s was to begin with, but neither am I certain it was all that much bigger.
It is so easy to judge someone else, to criticize a choice, to doubt an intention, to question a behavior. So easy to not see people with compassion, to not turn to mercy first.
Three days after my cancer diagnosis, I drove to church and parked in the absolute closest spot to the front door that wasn’t a handicapped spot. I know we are supposed to park far and sit close. I was feeling sad, scared, overwhelmed, and alone and I just parked there.
My mom was with me and I said, “#blamethecancer.” Mostly to laugh, but partly in seriousness.
She said, “You just never know what is going on for someone.”
Yesterday, five days post surgery, I went for a walk. Sunday morning, cold, snowy, quiet, crunching boots. I walked about as fast as a snail. A man with a puppy passed me. He’s seen me running almost every day for the past few months and here I was, still in my pajamas, inching my way down the road. I wondered what was happening in his life lately and how he was doing. We smiled and greeted each other. I felt a warmth bubble up in my chest, like a love balloon.
It sounds so dorky, cheesey, cliché. But I loved the man and his puppy. Walking together, sniffing all the sniffy things, crunching in the snow, cheeks pink from cold.
I don’t know what was going on for him. Maybe everything was going alright in his life and heart and home. Maybe he had received a piece of earth-shattering news. Maybe he was in between, like most of us, partly whole and partly broken.
But a love balloon went up from my chest, across the street, and popped over his head. He doesn’t know that happened. That’s okay.
As I walked past houses, I thought about what happened behind the windows. This home lost a teenage son to suicide. This home has breast cancer. This home lost their teenage son to suicide, the other boy’s best friend. This home struggles to pay bills. This home has an adult child with special needs. This home is filled with refugees and I don’t know if they could even name all they have lost. Some of the homes I don’t know but I can imagine. Loneliness, anger, fear, anxiety.
We are the walking wounded.
Walking through these wounding things can make us bitter and angry.
Or it can grow our hearts three sizes in one day.
I hope your heart grows. I hope, when someone roars ahead of you in the parking lot or when someone ignores you at a party or when someone speaks abruptly to you, that you choose empathy, that you pop love balloons over them.
Because you just never know what private pain someone is nursing, or what secret delight.
You just never know.
And I want to be big-hearted. I want my own griefs and pains to make space in my heart for those of others, the known and the unknown.
It was a lovely, healing walk.
Does this all sound really dorky?
(how long can I use that to excuse whacko behavior?)
It sounds spot on. It sounds like exactly what the walls of grief and pain are supposed to do it our lives. It sounds like Thomas Merton in a Kroger parking lot (go look it up if it doesn’t rig a bell!).
Will have to look it up, but love the comparison!
It doesn’t sound dorky to me, it sounds wonderful! May God replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh to help the hurting.
Amen to hearts of flesh.
When a lovely person is paying attention it isn’t dorky, it’s brave and glorious.
Use the hashtag as long as you need to.
And here’s a favorite from Parker-
Under stress, an unexercised heart will explode in frustration or fury. If the situation is especially tense, that exploding heart may be hurled like a fragment grenade toward the source of its pain. But a heart that has been consistently exercised through conscious engagement with suffering is more likely to break open instead of apart. Such a heart has learned how to flex to hold tension in a way that expands its capacity for both suffering and joy.
Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
Oh I LOVE this quote. So fitting, thank you.
Ah Rachel- this. All of this. Thank you for sharing your three size bigger heart. Love you.
Well, it made me cry. And I don’t have cancer. And I don’t even know you except from the blog. So if there’s anyone dorky around here, it’s most likely this reader sitting in a Kathmandu apartment.
Also, that Palmer quote!