Ministers often face this kind of situation. Shocked and feeling more numb than in pain, I had no words to say, nothing to write, no wise proclamations, nothing of comfort to offer. The sentences that formed in my head were not helpful:
“Thank all that is holy that it wasn’t near home….”
“My girl came home from school…”
“It’s too big and complicated. There’s nothing we can do.”
It’s been a long year and a few months and my nervous system is overloaded from the level of anxiety and fear that is in the air all the time. I felt helpless and lost. Maybe you do, too, sometimes.
But as I sat in my car for a few moments on Friday before going into the medical building for an echo-cardiogram, it hit me. When the technician starts to look, he’ll only see my broken heart. Because that’s what I have. Maybe we all have broken hearts these days and there’s nothing to do but live through it if we can.
Lying on my side in the darkened room, I watched the black, gray, and white images on the screen as Chris, who was doing my echo, shifted the wand around to find my heart.
“Is that the valve?” I asked.
“That part that looks like clapping hands?” he asked, “Yep, that’s a valve.”
Clapping hands in my heart. Two sets of clapping hands in my heart. I watched them carefully to make sure that they kept clapping. They did. It was somehow cheering to me to know that there was ongoing applause in my heart.
After a bit I told him about my thoughts in the parking lot. “I worried a bit that all you would see was my broken heart.”
I suspect others have said that to him, too. He wasn’t surprised.
“Did you know that there is a disorder called ‘Broken Heart Disease?’”
It shouldn’t startle me to know that our emotional lives manifest themselves in our bodies, but knowing that grief can cause our hearts to diminish in function to the point where it can be medically detected took my breath away.
“It’s a response to significant stress,’ he continued. “It usually abates after the stress diminishes, but sometimes there is permanent damage.”
I knew it to be true both literally and figuratively. Our hearts can be fully broken by life’s hurts and stresses.
So here we are, my friends. Here we are struck in the heart by a horrific shooting, children killed, and the chaos of sorting out what could actually help as the days pass. There’s the disarray in our national government, foreign agents sowing discord among us. We’re all stuck in this broken heart disease.
Our beautiful, amazing world is always broken, it seems. Violence erupts, love dies away from neglect or fury, disease invades. It’s always something. We are here to witness the beauty, to lift up and sing the wonder of it all. We are here to create more wholeness and love, as much as it is in us to make it. As we are able, we take steps and do what we can: uncover the bonds that connect us each to all, lean our shoulders into shifting the culture even if only in small measures, make calls and write letters to the halls of power, lift our voices, push hard against the forces that would demean and destroy the goodness that we know – we know – abides at the heart of all that is.
And in our hearts, the valves are clapping hands. More than every second there’s the clapping applause of our hearts. Touch your chest and feel that thumping applause cheering you on. Find your pulse on your wrist, in your neck, know that it is the clapping of hands that makes it happen.
Take courage, friends. Take courage. The way is always through, and we are not alone.