This I Believe

Kathleen - Norfolk, Virginia
Entered on January 16, 2007

I believe there are times when we should embrace heartbreak rather than shrink from it. No, I’m not masochistic and I’m not talking about reveling in the transitory pain of lost love either. For me, true heartbreak is coming face to face with a grief so profound that it alters your fundamental beliefs, essentially reshaping your person. It’s the emotional equivalent of winning a desperate but necessary battle and as a result, you are visibly wounded. You are never the same, but your wound becomes a badge of honor. It signals to the world that you are a survivor, that you overcame a crushing life event to resume an altered but nonetheless important life.

My friend Valerie taught me about the transformational power of heartbreak. I met her when we were both 22 –me a reporter for a small town newspaper and she its graphic artist. She was waiflike, with huge blue eyes and a smile fueled by joy. We were roommates for a season. Our tiny house in the country, heated by a woodstove, was indeed chilly, but I have never lived in a warmer place. Over the years ours was an intermittent friendship, our lives forking in different directions. She was a stay at-home mom, home-schooling four children and I a divorced mother of one busily climbing the career ladder. “The country mouse and the city mouse.” Valerie said. But I knew better. We were like those two sisters in the Bible, Mary and Martha. I was the Martha, anxious about many things, and she the Mary, serene, intent on taking in the wisdom of God.

My unease with this character contrast made me keep my distance for several years. But everything changed in March 2005 when I received an upbeat, casual email from Val. At its end she told me she had Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “My doctor says I don’t have long….My times are in God’s hands,” she wrote. So, the city mouse put aside her daily worries to return to the arms of her wiser counterpart. Valerie couldn’t talk so she scribbled notes to me in a pad of paper she clutched constantly. Despite this, our conversations were never awkward and always deeply personal. As I watched her physical body decline, I also saw her spirit increase in strength. And a corresponding change began to take place in me. My focus began to shift toward what she what she counted dear –family, friends, laughter and God. Quite simply, I witnessed a peace so pure that yes…it broke my heart.

So I celebrate the state of heartbrokenness because I believe it is an emotional and spiritual fire that burns away the accumulated veneer of triviality, taking us back to an abased but holy beginning – where we relearn that family and friendship should be desired more than gold, that joy can live along side of pain and most of all that faith may not be palpable but is the most powerful force in all of mankind.