Meditation on the heart-breakingly beautiful

It’s been 36 long years since tiny feet pressed against my back in bed in the middle of the night, to say nothing of little arms wrapped ‘round my neck and kisses planted on my cheek for absolutely no reason whatsoever. There is nothing like a 13-month-old granddaughter to crack open your heart. Watching Isabelle falling in love with the world, I just feel like crying all the time; her innocence is heartbreakingly beautiful.

And then there is the Cinderella-like never-been-kissed 47-year-old, dowdy-looking Scottish Susan Boyle, who turns out to have the voice of an angel. What can I say that would even come close to the beautiful heart-break of seeing the cynical and cool Simon Cowell melt in the presence of such splendid innocence? My eyes fill with tears every time I watch the video.

Add to these the poetic songs of 75 year-old Leonard Cohen, whose recent performance at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland left me wet-cheeked for three hours. I first fell in love with Cohen’s heart-breaking music when just 18, over 40 years ago, and we’ve grown gray together. “I last performed onstage 15 years ago,” he said, “just another 60-year-old with a crazy dream.” I laughed, I cried, I’ve been humming his songs for days. As he left the stage, he lightly skipped into the wings.
All these tears, I wonder; just a matter of getting older? To be sure, I cried often as a child; my older brother was not exactly the Wally Cleaver type – much to the contrary – he was cruel. I desperately wanted him to be my very best friend, to protect me and play with me, but he preferred to be alone. And when he was in my company and out of earshot of my parents, he used the moment to torment me.

In time I stopped crying. Like the Maasai warrior boys of the Ngorogoro crater in Tanzania, Africa, for whom crying is a family disgrace, I stopped the tears, choked them back, and as I grew older I left crying far behind. Habits of sarcasm and deflection replaced it. The sarcasm served to transfer my pain and longing to others using humor, but sarcasm is just masked aggression derived from suffering. As I’ve written before, I am a recovering sarcastic. Deflection was effective, too, so I cultivated glibness and quick wit.

Sarcasm does me no good and it hurts others, thus I try to set it aside. Deflection is mostly about avoiding strong emotions, like sadness or overwhelming empathy. So my current approach is to slow down and create some space, a gap wherein I need not be sarcastic or glib and I can take the time to feel what’s really going on inside. Leonard Cohen says this gap is the “crack in everything … that’s how the light gets in.”

Broken habits, broken hearts – between them I’m easily brought to tears. Perhaps after a while, I will cry less. Or, perhaps I will cry more; I can’t be sure where all this is headed. Nowadays I sense the larger fabric of my life; the rich strands of color and varied textures added by family, friends, and feelings. At times scratchy and irritating, right now life feels soft, warm and sweet. And if adorable Isabelle keeps giving me hugs and kisses, I’m a total goner for sure.