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14375342_1898733117020628_440956483_oA year ago today, I set foot in London, England for the first time. And realized I was home.

I went to England for three weeks on a study abroad tour with the English department at my university. We spent the first several days in London, and continued from there. Each Sunday that we were there we attended church. On the last Sunday I remember sitting in the meeting and weeping. I remember silently praying, talking to God about a lot of different things.

I remember praying, “How can I do it? How can I leave here? I’ve never felt such a sense of belonging in my life. How can I leave, Father? How?”

Then I prayed, “And you’re probably so tired of hearing about my problems. You’re probably so done hearing about the same concern over and over again. Even though I’m here in England I’ve still been praying about it and I’m sorry.”

More tears just came pouring out of my eyes. I thought the woman next to me was going to have to pull out her umbrella. “Please,” I finished, “I can’t leave. I don’t know how to leave this behind.”

The thing was, even as I was caught up in this sorrow, I felt a peace I’d never experiencedPhone Pictures 707 before. To be honest, this peace settled over my heart the instant I arrived in England and never left the whole time I was there. But in this moment, I felt so much genuine sadness. I was so grateful to be there. So, so incredibly grateful. I had known that I would feel that way. In fact, much of my life my parents had been reluctant about letting me travel to England because, as my mother once said, “You’ll go there and realize it’s your home. And then you’ll never come back.”

She was right. Because a part of me is still there, and it’s never coming back.

But as I spoke this prayer, and felt this peace, I also heard something. Very distinctly.

“I’ll never get tired of hearing you speak to me about anything. I don’t care if you say the same prayer all day every day if that’s the prayer of your heart. And I know you’re sad. I know it’s hard. And I’m right here with you. Don’t worry. This isn’t the end.”

Phone Pictures 927My time in England was the happiest time of my life up to that point. It was so much more for me than just seeing things I’d always wanted to see. It was so much more than a great thing I got to experience.

It was the very first time in my life where I saw dreams coming true. It was the very first time in my life where I wasn’t just waiting for my turn. (What can I say, I grew up in a big family. Waiting my turn has always been and will always be the story of my life.) It was the very first time when something completely spectacular, something beautiful, something so, so incredibly good that fed my soul, happened to me.

It was the first time that I realized good things could actually happen to me. And not just to everyone else. I think that the combination of me being number 8 of 10 children and also a writer has doomed me to a life of observation. I have always just been a watcher. I’ve watched things happen to other people my whole life, with me just standing on the fringes.

My deepest held desire has always been that one day it would be my turn.

You see, when your time finally comes, it is so much more than just seeing the sights. It is about dreams you’ve had your whole life coming true. It is about prayers you’ve whispered through tears finally being answered. It is about finally inhabiting a place in the universe you’ve only seen others step into. It is about joy so pure and full that you think your heart will burst. Joy you’ve waited your turn for your entire life.

This last year has been a year of it finally being my turn for a lot of things.

And it all started with England. England welcoming my soul home. England teaching mePhone Pictures 843 that it is about so much more than just the surface of what’s happening to you. England teaching me that it is actually about dreams coming true, prayers being answered, long awaited joy bursting your heart. England letting me go in a very painful moment, but whispering that it wouldn’t be for long.

I remember standing in Hampton Court Palace, only a few days into the trip, looking around me in complete awe. My heart was so full, my head buzzing. I couldn’t get enough of the view.

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Heartbeat Part 3

A broken heart is a funny thing.

It is the worst in the morning. After you’ve woken from a fitful sleep. As exhausted as you are, body and soul, you can never sleep for long. You’re plagued by dreams that wake you up and jerk you into reality. Sometimes you can go back to sleep, after you’ve taken something or said a hundred prayers or watched videos until your eyes bleed.

It is the worst in the morning. When there are no texts to wake up to. When you’re faced with the reality of another day. So you have to choose between curling up there in the pain and getting up and burying it in something else. These are your two options, and you don’t want to do either of them. Because each one hurts equally. So after a while you get up. Each step is a painful heartbeat.

Outside the sun is shining.

And in the brief moments during the day when you can immerse yourself in living, a very small part of you that is still intact surfaces. And it says a lot of things. It tries to help. It tries to encourage. It even teases you a little bit for being so completely cliche in your heartbreak. Look at you, being just like everybody else. Karma hasn’t been very kind recently.

You’re going through phases. It is strange what grief does to a person. And how we all grieve differently. You were never going to be like this, you told yourself. You were never going to let somebody in this far so that they’d have this much power to destroy you. But you grew up, and you learned things. And your heart changed. And you did let them in, and you fell head over heels in love. Madly and unabashedly in love. And you told them everything, all the little secret parts and pieces you’d kept hidden so deeply. Most importantly, you trusted them. They felt more like home than any house ever had. No matter what, with them you were always, always safe.

That’s why it hurts so badly now. And why none of it makes any sense.

It made so much sense, even to you. Your brain doesn’t really work in parts and pieces that fit together neatly. It works with grand ideas that move about existentially. But even to you, it fit together. Even to you, it made more sense than anything in the world. That’s why it hurts so badly now. That’s why the confusion is the worst part. Or maybe it isn’t the confusion, but the hope. Because you’re ridiculous, even to yourself. Because you keep hoping, and you keep praying. And you move from one moment to the next, held together in a patchwork of pain and hope.

Because with them it was different. You both said so. There had been others, in times past. Others that made your heart flutter, who knew how to make you laugh. Others you could’ve seen yourself with. And when they didn’t work out you had your periods of sadness. But it was never like this. Nothing was ever like this. This one was different.

These are the things you remember in the morning.

And somehow your heart keeps beating.

 

Heartbeat

A broken heart is a funny thing.

At first it doesn’t feel real. The world goes a little blurry and on the surface you’re doing and saying things, but underneath you wonder if it really happened.

Then the emptiness comes. And the reality sets in. And there is no reason to check your phone anymore but you keep doing it. And there is no reason to wait for a call that won’t come, but you still wait. And worse than wondering why is wondering how.

That is when it becomes the most real thing in the world.

And suddenly the feeling of it not being real is replaced by a hole inside of you that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Until you fall inside of it. And you feel lost between trying to climb back out and trying to fill it up. Which do you do first? How do you do either?

Eventually pretending you’re okay is doable. You can laugh about things. Be okay for just a moment. Maybe even forget when you can finally fall asleep.

But the emptiness doesn’t leave.

It does evolve though. And rather than walking around with a gaping hole it feels like a fire. It is lit inside the place where they lived, and burns slowly from the inside out every time you remember. But it never reaches the outside. It just continues to burn.

Remembering is the cruelest part. You have to decide which parts to remember, and which parts to forget. But you never really forget. Do you? And you fight the urge to remember, and you fight the urge to forget. And you’re caught somewhere in the middle.

Why does your heart keep beating?

There are silver linings, I suppose. Lessons that needed learning. You learn how to sympathize. You learn to understand. You learn that the worst pain in the world isn’t physical. You learn who is there for you. And sleep on a lot of couches just so you don’t have to be alone.

Life takes on new shapes. Decisions have to be made now that your future is different. You try and be grateful for all the goodness, and there are brief moments of sunshine. They make the waves a tiny bit better.

Because there are a lot of waves.

Waves of grief. They hit you when you least expect it. Waves of questions you wished you had asked. Waves of longing that widen the hole and stoke the fire. Waves of wondering. Waves of wishing. Waves of pure confusion. An entire ocean inside of you.

There is no more waiting. There is no reason to. None. And yet it is the only thing you know how to do anymore. So you’ll wait. At least for a little while. A piece of your soul will wait forever.

Sometimes there is too much to feel.

So you have to choose. Do you curl up and feel it all? This choice is the one that ends in more tears than you knew you could produce. They soak your pillow. And the shirts of your friends. The coats of your brothers. The blonde hair of your nieces and nephews that pile on top of you.

Or do you push it away? Forget about it all? Pretend it never happened? That only works for a minute. It catches up to you eventually when you suddenly hear a song, a word, a phrase, a movie, see a restaurant. When the memories are everywhere, they are inescapable. It will all catch up to you. And you’ll end up with the first choice anyway. In the tears. But not on your own couch, or your own hallway. Far away from the memories until walking through them doesn’t hurt anymore.

Why does your heart keep beating?

They all tell you to write it out. “It’s what you do.” They say. “It will help you feel better.” But you’ve forgotten how to write. How do you write without feeling it all? Maybe cry first, and then you can write numbly. Put it into a sort of poem. Then it becomes a project.

There are some moments of peace. When a little voice tells you there is a plan. And you hold on to this idea. That there is a plan. And for a moment you feel better, because having a plan is better than navigating the pain. So you wake up in the morning, on a different couch or maybe in your bed. You learn about colonial America. You go back to work. You spend money on frivolous things. You spend too much time with your friends. And you do the best you can.

And you try not to think about the fact that no matter what, at the end of the day, they are still gone.

You try and move forward. Moving on isn’t in the cards right now, because you don’t think about tomorrow. But you can move forward. Hour by hour. Remembering the things you love. Even though you’ve discovered that there are some things even Frank Sinatra can’t fix.

You send out your love. Because even though you wish it wasn’t, it is still there. And you pray they can feel it. You don’t want to become bitter. You remind yourself that love is beautiful. That it can conquer all. But in order to do so, you have to let it. Being in love is a frightening thing. You have to give yourself wholly to it, or it will fall apart. You have to stop thinking so much, or it will disappear. You have to have faith, or the fear will creep in.

These are the things you tell yourself. Hour by hour.

And somehow your heart keeps beating.