The death of Betty Ford last week left me awash in my own memories of similar struggles. Her openness and willingness to expose them to the world, changed and saved lives. That is why we are here: to open up our hearts to others, showing them who we are, risking judgement and our egos for a much greater good. We will gain so much more than we could ever lose by choosing to be ourselves and to love.
Twenty-four years ago, Love reached out, and pulled me out of the darkness of addiction, despair, and hopelessness. The amazing thing is, I barely asked for help. A tiny, frightened voice I recognized as my own, simply said, “If there is anything out there, help me, please.” That plea wafted through the air and reached the ears of Something greater than me. Thus, began the journey to opening a heart that had been sealed up and mummified. When Love touches you like that, all that you have wrapped around it for protection begins to fall away. Alcohol, drugs, busyness, control, manipulation, achievement, accumulation, and shallow relationships, no longer were an option to keep love (and life) at bay. Everything paled in comparison to the promise of rebirth.
Along with a new life, came new behaviors. I had no idea how to give love. I had no idea what love was. I equated love with being loyal, keeping secrets, and tolerating betrayal and abandonment. Love hurt. I wasn’t interested in indulging in that. So, I kept my heart and emotions tightly tucked away. I only put myself out there so far, never far enough that you would ever really know who I was. Although I didn’t want you to love me, I did want you to like me. I didn't have a clue how to be intimate... with anyone. I equated it to mean sexuality. I was a giver... Or, so I claimed. It never occurred to me I was being inauthentic by giving you what you needed, at my expense. I didn't realize when I did everything to please others, without letting you know what I needed, made me dishonest. I also didn't know that to love anyone or anything else, you need to love yourself. When you give to another from a place of low esteem, you are seeking validation; a faithless, selfish act. I did a lot of that. I measured love by what you could give me, do for me, or how you made me feel.
All that changed when that Hand reached out in Love and saved my life. The bands of protection around my heart began to loosen and then, fall away. Slowly at first, but eventually they were all gone. My bare naked heart was able to breathe, inhaling in the freshness of faith and hope. It softened and opened wide. It was healthy and flexible, perhaps for the first time in my life. It felt so alive in my chest. It twittered at a first kiss. It beat fast in anticipation of loved ones visits. It did flip-flops when I laid eyes on my beautiful grandchildren for the very first time. It squeezed tight at dear friends' disappointments and heartbreaks. And it shattered into a million pieces at untimely deaths and lost loves.
How can I ever repay in this life the Love that was extended to me twenty-four years ago? My gratitude can be expressed by loving openly, without fear..... out loud. It is only in loving in this manner, we move down our path into greater enlightenment, joy, and peace. It’s when the heart is broken that the hand of God reaches in and gently pieces it back together, healing it with Love. It doesn’t matter, a hammer or a velvet glove, every emotion, felt in the heart, is reassurance of our aliveness and connection to Love....the Love that is flexible, consistent and eternal. We needn't recoil and build an unpenetrable wall around it anymore. Every hairline fracture, every jagged crevasse, every chink is a blessed road map through the biography of our lives.
This morning as I meditated, tears flowed from my heart, out through my eyes. I felt this message clearly, “You are so loved my child.” I know when I reach the gates at the end of my days, the guardian angels won’t need to ask me the question, have you found joy in your life, and have you brought joy to others? All they’ll need to do, is take a look at the condition of my heart to know just how much I continued to love, no matter what. Revealed, they will see my vessel, full of large cracks and wide fissures, patched together like a delicate piece of beautiful antique pottery. A timeless work of Art. They’ll welcome me in saying, “A heart that worn and tattered, has certainly given and received immense joy." You see, I've discovered, the only way to experience that kind of joy, is to risk loving.
For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart.
It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.-- Judy Garland