God breaks the heart again and again until it stays open. – Hazrat
I met myself in Seattle this week and I was able to embrace her rather than be embarrassed or appalled. There I was at 25 with so much sadness and cynicism – but also possibility and hope. I saw her briefly outside the coffee shop in Fremont that is now a fancy bistrot. And there she was walking along Phinney near the zoo, trudging home during a snow storm after her bus got stuck. She was down by the wharf, taking a lunch break in the sun on a spring day during a temp job in an anonymous office. She was driving over that long, floating bridge on her way to Microsoft, and also in that now boarded up bar on a date with the guy who wanted to become a business executive so he could hire other people, which he viewed as a form of philanthropy. Her hair was long and unstyled. Not a trace of make-up. Old jeans and Birkenstocks. She had a lot of pride, a highly attuned sense of right and wrong. She was often a pain in the butt. But she meant well.
I was scared to go to Seattle this week – scared that I’d become melancholic as I bumped into this young woman. I guess I was afraid of regret and longing. But I found none. Rather, I found amazement that the city was still there, morphing and growing while continuing with its ivy covered houses built on steep hills — all different, all the same. Much like me.
I get a daily email from someone named Roger, and this one came prophetically the day I returned from Seattle: Your memories are valuable, important, and help comprise the person you have become. They do not however define your now or dictate your future. Yes, I thought, and then patted myself on the back for being in such a good place.
The words came to me in a different form yesterday afternoon when I walked with my daughter home from school. She was in tears watching a group of girls on their way to a birthday party. She wasn’t invited, and I could feel all of the regret and longing in her; it utterly echoed so many moments of my own regret and longing, my own desire and hope. I felt in me not only my 9-year old self but so much of that 25-year old Seattle self and, yes, this 44-year old yogi-mama-writer self. And I had so little to offer my daughter. Your heart will break and break, I wanted to say, but the further it breaks the more open and pliable it becomes. Open to the world’s beauties, open to the pain and possibility of other people.
I want to save her from pain, but she is entering that age when most pain will be beyond my mama love. A cuddle will no longer erase something. I can only offer meager balms, arms to hold her – when she’ll accept them, and my own experiences. Mostly, I can offer by example — show her acceptance, show her what it looks like to be hurt and then to get up the next morning in a better space, show her softness. As parents, living our own lives with grace can be the hardest and most subtle tool of all.