In his book, Die Wise, being currently translated to Turkish, Stephen Jenkinson talks about a friend of his who is praying for maintaining his broken heart. His friend, called Brother Blue, knows that human heart is created to be broken and that feeling the heartbreak every time is for remembering again the profound issues of life that need to be remembered. Blue prays for a broken heart.
Whenever I am in automatic pilot mode, I eat “only” for supressing my hunger, I drink “only” for supressing my thirst, I play with my children “only” for stopping their fussing (or feeling less guilty because I spend time with them) or I make programmes with my friends “only” for laughing and relaxing. Then, I see that there is a hole opening in me and that it grows large enough to swallow me. When the hole swallows me, I become dissatisfied, feel rather out of sorts and everything seems meaningless; my gratitude for life (if I have the strength to do so) remains in my words/mind, but it is not heartfelt. “Only”s do not feed me; instead, they push me into the hole.
In Palliative Care, I look at the list and repeat the names three times. I believe the first one touches my ears, the second my tissues and the third my bones. If they share their stories with me, I imagine that I take my bones into my hands and keep an area. Some stories wrench my heart, but on one condition; if the heart of the story teller wrenches as well. The stories that wrench my heart are my most precious ones.
I had an 82-year-old friend whom I met in Sydney and had a chance to spend time with nearly six months. When we first met, she was just diagnosed with dementia. She also had some disorders limiting her movement. She had had a compelling and tough, in her own expressions, life due to several factors such as poverty in post-war period, the difficulties of being a woman especially in those periods, immigration to a faraway country, not seeing her own land for a long time, marriage at an early age, three children and her husband’s being sick abed for long periods of time. However, the story that made her cry the most was different. Only after 25 years they moved to Sidney, could she have enough money to go to her country. The money she could save was barely enough for airline ticket and she could buy only a box of Turkish delight for her parents whom she had not seen for years. When she bashfully gave her present to her mum, she gave her a big kiss and told her to give it to her grandma next-door, who was grumpy and who would expect a present from her. This story was the most painful story she had with her mum who died sometime after her first visit to her homeland; after all those years’ longing, being able to take just a box of Turkish delight and not seeing her mother’s eating it. Every time she told her story, she used to say “Turkish delight seems sweet but tell me about it. My pain is the bitterness of Turkish delight. The one who tastes it has a heart which will never harden again.”.
In the rest of his book, Stephen Jenkinson talks about a line which passes through the middle of a seed. He says that the place is the one they burst open and a life emerges from there. He also mentions that a seed needs to be buried somewhere to burst open. He points out that everything we deeply value, even the way we do it has this form; that is, it instinctively has the state of this bursting open. He continues as “Our mission is not making it burst open. This is the mission of the world which knows how to do it very well. Our mission is to consent to its bursting open and to learn to live like this.”.
My 82-year-old dear friend, in a world where everybody is trying to fix their broken hearts, tells her bitter Turkish delight story which made her heart burst open like a seed and that pain’s always keeping her heart tender in tears.
During our lives where and how do our hearts get broken? What comes out from those broken places? “Despite…”, continuing one’s life elegantly requires competence and skill. A graceful master knows the aching resonance of the line ready to burst open inside and that it will do so one day for any reason. S/he gives her/his consent to live with it, and claim her/his past/upcoming grief.
Because s/he knows that grieving is done living. Grief wants us to experience it. We do not grieve, grief keeps us. It absorbs us, wraps us up and gives birth to us again. They say that the mother feels the pain of birth, but it is not known what the baby goes through. We know grief when our mothers are pregnant with us. When we are in her, we feel that feeling of being stuck, we cannot move and get out. We hurt a lot during our birth. While going through the canal, our bones almost get broken, our skulls get squashed, and our hearts get squeezed. We, newly born, are born in something new in the same form. We become another species in human form. Grief does not go anywhere else. It becomes smaller and is placed in our hearts and becomes our guide. “Life” penetrates into our broken bones. We become fragile and graceful. We feel what treating life fairly is. We see that we should be fair towards life, not the other way around. We become smaller in the presence of the greatness of life, but we feel gratitude because we have one drop of it in our blood.
If we live our grief, our grief becomes our strength. Only the ones who pray for their broken hearts know this.