A Heart Divided


Early last week, I received an email from a friend who lives with a heart divided. On one side is an engaging young woman who sees the world clearly and feels it intensely -all of it. She is bright and intuitive – her first instincts nearly always spot on. She is strong and fiercely determined, but tender like a reed and vulnerable. She is courageous and headstrong, resilient and determined to overcome. She also is kind and compassionate, loyal to a fault and introspective. She is clever and creative, quick-witted and funny. She’d prefer to not be the center of attention – ever – but she deserves to be. I suspect in a safe space, she would gladly share her heart and you would immediately be captivated by its beauty and rush to protect it. But, because her experience has too often been that the world is not a safe space, she guards it and seldom pours it out.

And then there is the other. The officious inter-meddler, green with envy of her better half and hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to keep the authentic version of her unseen. She is a bully in the truest sense of the word, the dark side of perfectionism, unrelenting, hyper-critical, never fully satisfied – abusive. She is slow to acknowledge even the most significant of achievements and quick to diminish or demean. She seizes on moments of self-doubt and makes them her playground. Like a nightmare roommate, she is loud and obnoxious, messy and destructive. She scatters dirty laundry all over the living room and bedroom floors, rearranges furniture without permission, spills grape juice on the carpet at every opportunity and dims or breaks lights and light fixtures – all in the hope that she will drive her truer half away and lay claim to a space that she was never intended to inhabit.

It was clear from the e-mail that both were at it – again. She was writing to let me know that a year of hard work and dedication had paid off. That she’d been selected for a very special honor – albeit not the penultimate one she had aspired to, the one that others, who know little of the back story that made my friend’s achievements that much more remarkable, told her she was certain to get. It was clear that, on some level, she appreciated the mountains she had summited and wanted to embrace the moment. But, the other side had other plans – its “you could’ve/should’ve” voice intent on drowning out the chorus of those who know her story and know her truth. It was eager to distort and transform her accomplishment into a misstep, a falling short, if not an outright failure.

I felt compelled to step in: “My Dear Friend,” I began. “You have been blessed with a special heart, but also a self-critical one. I know that heart intimately, because I too have lived with one for as long as I can remember. My hope is that in this battle the special one will win out and make room to allow you to give yourself a hearty pat on the back for yet another job well-done! Because, while this ‘skirmish’ between the 2 sides may not seem overly important in the grand scheme of things, I assure you every victory won by the special side (and the territory that comes with it!) brings you a little closer to the day when that ‘unwelcomed tenant’ will be gone forever and your authentic self (the real you) will be free at last to enjoy the fullness of life that will have made each of those battles well worth the effort!”

What’s So “Terrible” About The Twos?


“I used to numb my feelings and hide. Now I feel my feelings and share.” Glennon Doyle Melton

We were born to feel.

If you have any doubts about that, I encourage you to spend a day with a 2 year-old of your choosing. Chances are if he or she is like most 2 year-olds, by day’s end, you will have seen them experience and EXPRESS some or all of the following emotions: affection, aggression, aggravation, anger, apathy, anxiety, boredom, compassion, confusion, contempt, envy, embarrassment, fatigue, fear, forgiveness, frustration, gratitude, guilt (okay, maybe not guilt!), hatred, hope, hostility, hunger, hurt, hysteria, joy, loneliness, love, pain, pleasure, pride, rage and shame. The amazing thing is: They (and you) will experience all of them in one 24 hour period! What’s even more amazing, however, is that, at the end of that day, seemingly without a second thought, that 2 year-old bundle of human emotion will unhesitatingly cuddle up next to you with a smile, as if none of it had ever happened or, better yet, as if it’s all just part of what it means to be alive – likely loving you more than they did when the day began.

As time passes, of course, the real world intervenes. The 2 year-old in us starts to realize that there are limits on how openly we can express our feelings in certain settings (e.g., in the classroom, on the playground, at the dinner table, at restaurants, in church, etc.) and with certain people (e.g., parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, coaches, friends, lovers, bosses, authority figures, etc.). We have all kinds of fancy labels we put on the throttling back (e.g., decorum, discretion, political correctness, politeness, etc.), but the underlying message and the effect are still the same: “If you want to fit in and be more fully accepted, it’s best to feel less or, at least, less openly.” The good news is most of us come equipped with “governors” that make that throttling back possible. I say “good news” because, I’ll be the first to admit that it would difficult to live in a world where everyone was free to feel and express feelings as often and as intensely as a 2 year-old.

The thing is: Some feel more than others and typically the ones that do have a difficult time adapting. They just don’t seem to want or be able to dial back their emotions or the expression of them no matter how inappropriate the time and place may be. You likely know one of the folks I’m talking about – the ones who wear their heart on their sleeves; who in the face of social or other injustices simply can’t or won’t refrain from speaking out – the ones who can cry over what seems to be “nothing” (e.g., a scene in a movie, a ballet, play or music recital, a photograph, the outcome of a sporting event, the simplest act of kindness, a well-placed smile, a warm embrace, another’s heart poured out for all the world to see, etc.). Unfortunately, we tend to react to these folks the same way we do to the Terrible Two’s – they make us uncomfortable, they create a sense of awkwardness – we silently wish they’d just get in line with the rest of us, that they’d learn to control themselves.

I know because I happen to be one of those people – just ask the waitress in the BBQ joint in Des Moines, Iowa, who had the misfortune of waiting on me when I read Joanna Kay’s post, “Surrendering the Skinny, Skinny Jeans“ (http://tinyurl.com/pz274tl) for the first time; the young man who served my friend and I at the small Mexican cantina along San Antonio’s Riverwalk; the parents of my little-leaguers on any given Saturday; the editor of my book or the friend who patiently accompanied me on nearly every word of that journey; my wife, son and daughter about public and private “outings” too numerous to mention; my fellow movie and concert goers; those who’ve heard me speak; the cleaning crew lady who happened by my office as I was reading Rachel Macy Stafford’s “Children Who Shine From Within” (http://tinyurl.com/jw8o456) for the umpteenth time; or my bedroom walls and pillows – all will readily attest to fact that the 2 year-old in me is alive and well.

Truth is: I’ve been “that guy” for as long as I can remember, but I lost sight of it for a while. Maybe subconsciously I grew weary of the teasing and ridicule, good-natured though it may have been, that often came with it through the years. Maybe it was all a little more than my tired heart was capable of handling. Maybe I just needed a break from the intensity of it all. Maybe I decided to give conforming another try, sensing that the road to the happiness others appeared to be enjoying necessitated that I care a little less. I should’ve known better, should’ve realized that will never be me – any more than it will ever be so many others whose attentiveness and deep sensitivity to the world around them I admire so much. Theirs are the eyes through which I prefer to see the world and the hearts with which I long to experience it – all of it. Thankfully, I’ve started to find those feelings again and as difficult as they may be to sit with at times, I really wouldn’t have it any other way.