Choosing To Live With An Open Heart

Photo courtesy of Motiqua

"Never attach yourself too closely to anything, in order to let go if Providence takes it from you."

This quote showed up in my Twitter feed this week, and I was struck by a feeling of sadness for the author, and the thought that living by this mantra would be a safe, but ultimately empty way to live. I realize that as humans we tend to filter everything through the lens of our own experiences, so it’s possible that I am misinterpreting the message. Either way, it got me thinking about love and risk and how the two relate to one another.

On one level, I agree with the sentiment; I do not place a very high value on possessions because at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. It can be replaced. So many experienced this type of loss with the storms and flooding that swept through our region (Midwest) over the summer months. Entire homes were carried down the river, and hail storms claimed countless crops, dashing the hopes and dreams of the farmers whose livelihoods were destroyed right before their eyes. And yet, the families affected have pushed forward with the understanding that nothing was lost that could not be recreated with time.

The problem I have with the quote comes when I try to apply it to human relationships. As someone who has gone through the incredible trauma of divorce, I know how it feels in the midst of such intense pain to think, “Never again will I open myself up if it means risking this kind of loss.” This defensive stance has been echoed by many I have met through a support network for those going through separation and divorce. Some move from surface relationship to surface relationship, staying in the moment while refusing to allow anything serious or meaningful to enter their lives. Others avoid the prospect of loss or rejection all together, determined never to date or marry again, resolving to be content with a solitary life. To be clear, if someone chooses to go through life on their own because they are comfortable that way, more power to them. But to close one’s self off from a second chance at love out of fear, from the worry that the risk outweighs the reward? I cannot imagine choosing to go through life that way.

Loss of love comes in many forms. We may be betrayed by the one person we felt certain would never hurt us. Feeling replaced, rejected, abandoned by someone we allowed ourselves to believe would be there forever? It is an almost unbearable pain. And yet we must bear it, because it is the only way to move forward and live our lives with purpose, being proactive in our own futures instead of reacting to the fear of further injury.

Photo courtesy of Candida.Performa

Sometimes, rather than abandonment, we lose the person we love through injury or illness. Imagine reaching for the hand of a lover, a hand you have clasped for decades, only to have it recoil from you; mind clouded by confusion or dementia, your best friend no longer recognizes you–or worse, fears you. Do you reject them as they have seemingly rejected you, or do you honor the love that was there before the disease, continuing to care for someone who no longer recognizes you? It would be easier to slowly distance yourself, avoiding the pain of watching them slip further away by the day. And yet a love that comes and goes easily is not a love that will sustain us.

Of course, for many the loss is far more permanent. Death can come for any of us, at any time. Just this week there were news reports of a groom killed in an accident hours after the wedding; to the other end of the spectrum, we see the bittersweet stories of spouses united for half a century or more before one of them passes away. All love among ‘mere mortals’ will ultimately lead to loss, so what is the point?

Thoreau said, “There is no remedy for love, but to love more”, and I agree. We were born with the desire and the capacity to love deeply, fully, passionately–why deny ourselves this experience? Of what use is a safe life, if it is a life without love? Despite the inherent risks, I believe that for me, it would be far more painful to live a life devoid of companionship, affection, laughter, tears, crazy traditions and inside jokes, a life without shared sacrifices and triumphs. I challenge anyone who has experienced the loss of love to rise up from the crushing pain of seeing the life they envisioned stripped away, and to press forward eagerly, with an open mind and a heart determined to love fully once again.

Photo courtesy of NewEveryMorning

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” ~Author Unknown