Box of Broken Hearts
A Lens on Empathy
I lace up my grey converse sneakers, reach for my iced coffee and car keys, and lock the door behind me. In the car, I turn up a peppy tune and let the warmth travel over my cooled skin. I feel free and effortless – like I exist in myself and that is all. The feeling does on the inside, what the sunshine does on the outside.
As I travel from place to place, I mentally check off lists and work to stay grounded. Liberating a shopping cart from its corral, I make eye contact with a stranger. I smile, then duck my head, breaking gaze. But it’s already there. Intuitions about the other person scrawled in the air so vividly that they demand attention. Crippling worry.
My heart falters with a stab of pain. Okay, I will avoid eye contact next time. I work to recover.
Later, I turn from placing an order. I almost bump into a human figure. “Excuse me,” I offer. The impressions float forth again. Grief. This person’s grief hits me like a force; thieving wind from my lungs. I look around. Is anyone else feeling these things? Can others also read and feel these emotions so graphically? Am I meant to notice these abstract signals? I picture a strobe light beckoning in the dark. Or is even the intuition unwelcome – like peeking behind a thick curtain, sliver of light blinding and imposing?
By the time I make it back home, I am drained. I have more to add to the cumulation; more hearts. I take out this box full of all the broken hearts I’ve collected and kept. Open it, dust suspended and sparkling. Reach in, or no? It’s getting heavier all the time. “They’re not yours to fix,” I tell myself, but it’s painful to look inside. It hurts to know I have at my disposal all the tools needed to seek and find the fractures and examine the bruises. But to fix them; oh, what a feat that would be. A piece of a whole heart would fit just about right. Mine – I have more than enough pieces. …enough for one or two… But the whole box? The whole box would cost all of me.
The opposition plays tug of war inside; soul fraying with the strain of it. ”Leave them behind.” The sentiment echoes from every side, like a maze of mirrors. I know I’ll never be able to do that. It’s not possible for me, I’ve accepted this. I tenderly place each piece back in the box. Solidarity and compassion wrap a condoling blanket over the intricate process. It won’t close all the way, but I do the best I can as the hearts peek through, vivid and sincere and beckoning.
I know I can’t fix the hearts, but neither can I leave them behind. I’ll simply carry them with me a little while longer.