Love is a strange kind of gift. It can be given unconditionally or with strings attached. It can be difficult to reciprocate and even more challenging to return if it does not withstand the test of time. There are no tangible receipts or proof of purchase.
When I pick out a present for myself, I try to think about the long term. Sure, I admire these earrings right now, but will I still like them as much in five days, five months, or five years? It is difficult to know. As I look in the mirror at the gallery, I think they look lovely hanging from my ear, beautifully handcrafted and unique. What’s more, I feel beautiful wearing them. I like the idea of spending my money to support an artist. If I get them now, they will remind me of the story of this moment in my life.
I convince myself that I will love them forever, and there will be no regrets or stress from the money spent or the addition of a new item my collection, but time, my mind, and life’s unexpected happenings have a way of shedding new light on decisions I have made. I do not believe in regrets. I believe that I made the best choice I could with the information I had and the place I was in emotionally at the time. I am also not under the allusion that I will feel the same way about a decision with the passage of time, new life experiences, and the wisdom I gain about my own self in the process.
Maybe you are wondering why I agonize so deeply about a pair of earrings. Or maybe you realize that I am not just writing about a pair of earrings. Earrings, of course, are somewhat of a metaphor for those choices great and small I have made in my life.
All choices have repercussions, some greater and longer lasting than others. Some choices cut more deeply into my own heart and those of others. It goes on.
I still love many of the earrings I chose many years ago, but there are others that raise questions. I wonder about the woman who picked them out. How did they make her feel? What thoughts crossed her mind when her eyes fixed upon them?
It was I who asked my first husband to marry me, and it was a choice made more for his happiness than my own. My choice to leave was for me.
It was a painful path I followed when I left one gift of love behind. And it has not been an easy path I have continued upon with new love.
I felt like a criminal when I left my husband and then like a failure when I filed for divorce. Dear friends in our community were so shaken that they fell out of contact. The illusion of stability and the shattering of that tenuous reality were perhaps too sensitive of a reminder that anything can change at any time. Hearts can grow distant so gradually that it is next to impossible to see where things went wrong.
My heart had grown distant but not merely from my husband. I was not sure I could feel it in my own body. I felt pain and grief, but my heart, like my sense of self, had become like a stranger, a foreign entity squatting in my rib cage and taking up space but not paying rent.
Who was I? What kind of person had I been before this tumult? What kind of person was I destined to become? Did I have a destiny?
I had no idea.
I remember the weeks following surgery to reconstruct my ACL tendon. I lost all of the muscle definition in my right leg and was tasked with having to teach my leg how to function.
My broken heart many years later offered a similar challenge. It was like I was learning to use it for the first time. We were strangers getting to know each other, to trust one another, and to discover what we were capable of accomplishing when we worked together rather than separately, as we had for so long.
I learned to use my leg with the help of dedicated physical therapists.
I learned to use my heart with the help of friends and family.
I strengthened the muscles in my leg over time and with practice and regular exercise, but it took years before it resembled its former self.
My heart followed a similar process. I had to gentle but firm with it and my self. There were setbacks and times when I felt like I might not make it. I was desperate for stability. Even the illusion of stability would do. At least, that is what I told myself when melancholy set in. I was impatient to be done with it, to be on the other side, healthy and strong.
Just as a heart has many layers, so too does the gift of love. It was love that gave me the courage to leave and love that kept a fire burning inside of me as I moved through the storm that followed. Love came in many forms, both within and without, and from likely and surprising people and places.
And love helped me reach the place where I am today, with a full and grateful heart, open and ready for whatever lies ahead.