Breaking Open to Life

Today my heart is breaking open. Again. It’s Sean’s 8th birthday, and he is not with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “breaking open” in recent years. What defined the wholeness before the break? Do we have to break? Do we remain “broken?” Can we actually heal and become whole again? And will we continue to break, or at the very least periodically crack, or can we find perpetual wholeness?

At this very time eight years ago, I was still “whole,” “intact.” I had just arrived at the hospital to birth someone new into the world. When I reflect on this now, the planned nature of the introduction strikes me as somewhat ironic. Just hours before I left for the hospital, I went for my morning run, and a neighbor boy, probably not more than 10 at the time, yelled out to me from his porch as I passed him, “Hey, Mrs. McGlinn! Aren’t you having a baby today?” I distinctly recall smiling back at him and answering, “Yes, yes I am.” I was to be induced, you see, due to my AMA–advanced maternal age. And so, in my routined and disciplined fashion, I decided to keep to my schedule and take my run. I had planned to then gather my packed bags and go have a baby.

And that’s what I did.

Only several hours later, Sean Albert Lindner McGlinn introduced himself properly. No longer was he an image on an ultrasound. He was, as Pinocchio claimed himself at the end of the story, “a real boy.” Although his birth was scheduled, this was the first unexpected revelation on my journey with this child. I admit, my deepest self knew he was going to be a boy, but apparently she didn’t share with the group. I had assumed Sean would be a girl, my third girl, and so I had absolutely nothing for him. No “boy” anything. I can still recall ordering clothes and decorations for his nursery from the hospital bed. There was a certain excitement about all this. Beneath it, however, I was asking myself, What am I going to do with a boy? I don’t know anything about boys.

The breaking open continued. My body had opened to realize new life, and when it did, a new energy had emerged in me as well. This brand new human had called forth a new spirit from inside me. I had been birthed again. I was being called to a renewal of myself–one that can only result from, yes, a breaking open, both physically and energetically.

For a long time now, I’ve asked myself, How do I manage the ever-changing conditions of a heart that is sometimes whole and full, and then responds to suffering and sadness by cracking and shrinking? The answer today is the same as ever. If the heart wants to, let it crack and shrink and ache. Let it do as it will. Accept the feeling. Sit with it. Allow it to be. Invite it to whisper it’s secrets or fears or worries. As the waves flow towards the shore, they also recede. This is the cyclic nature of energy, of the life cycle.

And so back to the present and how I’m feeling today on Sean’s birthday without him. These past eight years have been full of sufferings and joys, retreats and renewals. I have witnessed and experienced the dissolution of a marriage; single parenthood; Sean’s walk through cancer. As I have traveled these life paths, I have come to know this for sure. Life doesn’t call us to ease and success or even happiness. These are all wonderful when they occur, and they do. They will. But the purpose of life is to live. It is to break open, expand, flourish, get quiet, retreat, and begin again. Over and over and over. This is evolution. This is growth. Nature reveals it everyday, in every new branch, every new bud, every new baby bird that breaks free from its shell, gains strength, and flies away from its nest.

Today my heart hurts, and the cracks are palpable. I long to tangibly hold my little boy, look in his eyes and tell him how proud I am of him and how much I love him. But that is not to be today. It is, though, this very suffering that at the same time invites greater conscious, spiritual strength, and evolution. Like the actual birth process, it is through pain, the breaking open, that new life, ready to live and thrive, comes into the world.

As I reflect on this, I am reminded of Kintsugi, the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. In this tradition, indeed an art form, rather than reassemble a broken vessel with an invisible adhesive, the pieces are joined with a gold-, silver-, or platinum-dusted lacquer. The result is a vessel, which, with its visible, organic, non-linear “flaws,” appears even more beautiful, valuable, and stronger than it was in its “whole” unblemished form.

As I sit with these feelings today, as I share them with you, I will continue to reflect on how my breaking open and healing assist my evolution. I will witness my own sadnesses and joys and choose contemplation and compassion over sustained depression and self-criticism. I will remain committed to living this life with all its whole-hearted happiness and cracks of disappointments. Because in the end, the point is not to live unscathed, but rather, to remain open to elevation and meaning.

Is it possible to live in a state of perpetual wholeness? No and yes. Broken hearts are inevitable, but even when we experience them, we can also choose to remain open to love and goodness and compassion. And as they flood into the broken places, like the glimmering elements of Kintsugi, they fill the cracks, soon to make us whole and vibrant and full of life once again.

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