My Heart Is Made To Carry Your Pain

I am very small, standing in my parents’ barn.  At my feet, there are two dead rats. I don’t know the reason for this.  Poison? Disease? I only know that I am small, but they are smaller and their death hurts my heart.

Their sharp teeth poke through their jelly tongues like dangerous mountains, but I am not afraid.  Only sad.

 My parents shoo me away from the rats and I wander around outside, singing a song that rises up out of my knee-high little soul.

Oh Lordy, Lordy, please look after the dead rats.

My mother laughs. My father awws.  I am cute to them, naive. My concern for tiny things shows my limited understanding of the world.  A dead rat is a small thing. 

What they don’t understand is that my heart is also a small thing. A small thing that swallows up the world’s pain and doesn’t release it.  A small thing that grows heavy, but never full.

But my small self is not thinking these things.  My small self is only thinking that their hurt hurts me. I carry that pain for days.

I am small.  Curled up in my mother’s lap, I roll back and forth making silly popping noises that I imagine to be bubbles.  One roll propels me so far I slam into the wall, bumping my head and turning my playful pops into sobs.

My mother draws me close again and pats my hair. “Looloo Belle, be careful. Remember this. There is an invisible thread between us so that every time you hurt, I hurt too.  So always make good choices.”

I pinch my arm to test her theory and, on cue, my mom cries out in pain.

My hurt is her hurt. So now I must be careful not to hurt myself. Because I can take my own pain, but I cannot take hers.

I am still small, but getting bigger.  My mother and I are with our family at the beach in Tel Aviv. When we left America, there was snow on the ground, but here, there is sun and sand and water that tickles my toes.  I run in and out, laughing.

The Israeli children run in and out of the water too.  They yell loudly to each other. I understand some of the words, but not all. I want to play with them, but I don’t know how. 

One boy comes up to me with a plastic bag full of water and dumps it on my head. The salty water stings my eyes.  I fight back tears. He laughs and runs back to the water. I run to my mother.

She turns me around and sends me back.  “Lela, he wants to play with you! Go dump water on his head!”

But, the water is still stinging my eyes and I know if I dump it on him it will sting his eyes too and it will hurt and I don’t want to hurt him. I sit by mother for the rest of the day, making sand castles with my toes.

I get taller, more grown-up.  My body stretches out long and lean and strong. But, inside my heart still feels the same.  Too soft, too open, too heavy. Meant more for carrying pain than releasing it.

Kids at school can be mean. A girl calls me stupid.  A boy burns the ends of my hair with a lighter. I take in that hurt, but release nothing.  My heart is meant to carry things.

I tell my mom that kids can be mean.  She asks me why I don’t fight back. She tells me that I have to stop being so soft. She tells me that the world will hurt me if I don’t get stronger.

I try.  I try because I remember that my hurt is her hurt and I don’t want to hurt her.

 I don’t get stronger… but I do learn some tricks.

I learn that when people love you, they don’t hurt you.
I learn to be lovable.
I learn to not to be so lovable that people need me.
I learn that people who need me weigh the heaviest on my heart.
I learn to only give my heart to people who don’t need it.

In college, I date like a hummingbird, flitting from flower to flower.  One date and then I’m off to the next boy. Quick quick, before I leave too much of myself behind.

One boy is persistent.  He looks at me with eyes that want too much and I try to fly away but he holds on too tight and I am stuck. He tells me…

I love you.  I need you. Without you, I’ll die.

 I carry his need in my heart and it weighs me down. I try to escape, but he tells me again…

I love you. I need you. Without you, I’ll die.

I wait. I wait, even though I feel his need in my heart like a boulder that keeps me grounded in my home with a heaviness I’d never felt before.

I wait for weeks, months.  I wait until he is somewhere far.  Somewhere that I can’t see his eyes. Can’t feel his need. And then I tell him slowly, in little bits, that my heart is too heavy to carry him.

He tells me…

I love you. I need you. Without you, I’ll die.

For the first time in my life, I allow the weight on my heart to matter more than someone else’s hurt and I tell him that I cannot stay with him.

He is in pain and I carry that pain in my own heart so that it weighs me down almost as much as his need did.

I vow to never again allow someone close enough that I can hurt them. 

I keep my promise.

 Until I meet a boy who loves me but doesn’t need me and we build a life together where we love deeply, but don’t hold too tightly and, I learn that letting someone love you doesn’t always mean weighing down your heart, sometimes it can mean lifting it up.

I am a mother now.  I have three children who are strong and brave and smart. I know now that what my mother told me is true.  There is indeed an invisible thread between a mother and her children.

My children have grown in wildly different ways. Each is like a shooting star, flying off in different directions, bound only by the gravity of our family ties and that invisible thread to my heart.

Each, in their own way, has been blessed with a heart that is kind and compassionate, but not one of them has been cursed with a heart made for carrying other people’s hurts.  When the world throws things at them, they throw them right back.

 I’m not sure which combination of nature and nurture gave them this balance, but I am endlessly grateful for it.

Over the years, I’ve watched my children go from very small beings to great big stretched out ones. I’ve seen them feel joy and pain and then more joy again. I am keenly aware of how fleeting our time together is.

My oldest son is just past 16.  He is thinking of college and the wider world.  He tells me he wants to go far, California or maybe Sweden. The thought of him being far away hurts my heart, but I don’t tell him, because that is my weight to carry, not his.

Instead, I sit down beside him, put my hand on his shoulder and say, “Wherever you go, whatever you do, remember that there will always be an invisible thread between us and, it’s very important that you make thoughtful choices.”

He looks up at me with his big brown eyes, so full of hope and excitement for the future. I take a deep breath and continue.

“Because every time you feel joy, I feel it too.”