This morning I read a story to my students called “The Man Who Kept His Heart in a Bucket.” The book rocks because it’s one of those children-friendly, picture-packed, yet very-much-needed-for-adults-to-hear, kind of thing. I’m a big fan of the subliminal messages woven into a good children’s book. They serve just as much of a lesson to me as they do to 15 first graders sitting crisscross applesauce on the floor in front of me.
As I’m sure you could presume, the man once had his heart broken, and has thusly decided to keep it ironically safe in his open-air tin bucket; carrying it with him wherever he goes. He tastes pie that he doesn’t appreciate, hears music without wanting to dance, and sees a baby he could do without holding.
My students did not get this at all. “Why would the man keep his heart in a bucket just because it’s broken?” I hid my smile at the question, because I forgot that when you’re in first grade, it really is hard to understand the concept of a broken heart. Feeling lost, or misplaced. Unwanted, unused, used. Over-emotional, emotionally numb. Obsessive, unsure, too much, not enough. Always questioning, not caring. Complicated, damaged, insecure. You know, the usual ups and downs of our day to day.
Then it occurred to me, that it was not at all fair for me to assume that these hearts hadn’t been broken just as much as mine has. Maybe our scales our different, but I’m sure they too feel that tug in the core of their chest at times.
Maybe it’s when their best friend doesn’t sit by them at lunch, or if they’re told to skip dessert after dinner. A parent away on a business trip, or their brother in trouble for saying a bad word. Whatever it might be, how selfish it would be for me to imagine they couldn’t understand.
The difference, is that they are still so excited about life, so willing to remain whole-hearted even when it cracks, to allow anything ruin their entire day. They will still taste the pie, and they will still dance to the music. They will not let the disappointment take away from their relentless hope, because there is so much more to look forward to. Like snack time. Like recess. And how remarkable is that?
In a few days, I am turning 25. An odd age. Literally, but also, weird to think about, odd. I know that’s still considered a near-infant number to some, but to me, it marks a new time in my life. A time that my worlds have changed, shifted, and altered in ways that leave me analyzing 37285792 things before I go to sleep at night. In ways that make me constantly ask the question, “Am I doing the right thing?” Does that question ever get answered?
There is no resource to help you answer these questions. There is no guy in black sweat pants waiting in the corner of the ring to wipe the sweat from your brow. There’s not always going to be someone who stops to tell you “You’re doing a great job, keep going.” And if you’re relying on that, you’ll probably find yourself disappointed; maybe even a little bit broken-hearted. But I also believe, that my students this morning were on to something in their question.
Why keep your heart in a bucket, even when it’s worn, or hurting, or unsure? Why let that stop you from tasting the pie, or dancing to the music? Be it naïve, I also find it brave of them. And admirable. Whatever age I find myself turning, I hope I can hold onto the rosiness of feeling things, and worry less about the pain that might come with it.
How lucky we are to feel things, to have beating hearts, to always have the option of hope. And, if nobody’s told you today, you’re doing a great job. Keep going.