A Tender Heart

These past three years, the question most on my mind has been: “How can I ever again have a tender heart?” It’s wild how wide the gulf has been between that question and its answer.

I approached this problem the way I approach any problem of importance: data, brute force, self-recrimination. The problem, I was sure, was that I'd become too wise. To be tender, I needed to make myself stupider. I needed to unlearn what I’d learned: to believe again that a lie is not a lie, that love will never leave, that what we trust can never cease to be.

What I found, of course, was that the problem wasn't what I'd learned, but what I'd failed to.

A few nights ago, someone held my hand. It was a casual gesture, almost without thought, but it cracked something open inside me. I realized the path to a tender heart isn't asphalt and gravel; the path must itself be tender.

Thich Nhat Hanh says one of the goals of mindfulness is to look at the rot and decay of compost and in it already see the flower it will become. This is beautiful. What’s harder is the reverse: that in the flower, we must already see the compost.

Everything that’s born is already dying; everything that’s dying is already being reborn. It’s slipping through our fingers even now. A tender heart isn’t about believing we can hold on; it’s about trusting that we can let go.