I am writing this under “Half Baked”, but truth be told, it’s more like “Quarter Baked”. Maybe even “Mostly Raw”. Usually when I sit to write, I have a sense of clarity and purpose. I feel solid and collected. This isn’t the case for me this week. The last few weeks have been hard. I feel a little beat up, if I’m being honest with you. And so it is hard to get it together, to piece together my thoughts in a way that feels meaningful.
This week I was reminded that when your heart is broken, you look and sound the same. The world moves all around you. Like in a dream. Or a movie. But inside, it feels broken, bruised, hurt, other. This is a strange phenomenon, and one that my patients and their loved people deal with all the time. Of course, you don’t have to have an illness to experience this. Relationships end, loved ones die, life happens all the time. And sometimes life is generative and at other times it must break so that it can rebuild.
Years ago, when I was working through a particularly challenging stretch of my life, to feel “broken” would have been a general improvement over what I felt on a daily basis. “Broken” implies there are pieces to put back together. For me, during that time, I didn’t feel I had any pieces. It was an emotional vacuum. It’s a hard place to start from.
There is a quote that is often attributed to Plato, but apparently derives from a man named John Watson. I encountered it back when I felt so broken and it truly resonated with me:
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.
This is such a simple, beautiful, and truthful observation. In hospitals in particular, I always think that with the exception of a handful of people picking up or expecting a healthy baby, no one is there because it is the best day of their life. No one. No one waiting at the elevators or having breakfast in the cafeteria is having their best day as they go meet someone after a major operation, or take flowers following a big accident, or while they pass time as their loved one hovers on the brink of life and death. For the people filling the beds, it isn’t their best day, either.
The fact is, that anywhere you go, you will encounter people who are having beautiful days and challenging days and everything in between. But please remember that the brokenhearted look just like everyone else. They will rally and offer a smile or pleasantry and you will have no idea. They will say “Have a nice day” and “Thank you” and walk to their cars like everyone else. And you will never ever know how giving them the penny in your pocket to save them from getting $.96 in change, or opening the door, or offering a smile as they stumble or stammer will lighten their load, even just a little.
We can also choose to be kinder to ourselves when we feel compromised. When we feel cracked or broken. We don’t have to beat ourselves up or maintain the same expectations or compare ourselves now to ourselves before, when we felt strong and whole. Comparison stifles opportunity. It impairs growth and possibility. Even when that comparison is to a former incarnation of ourselves, we need to make room for who we are becoming. For what is next.
If we can get out of our own heads a little, we can be kinder and more open to the world around us. And when we are, the world feels softer and friendlier and more welcoming to everyone. And for those among us who carry the shards of their broken hearts, you will have made a difference that you can never understand. You will have cushioned the sharp edges, even for a minute.
I am sure that I will write a forthcoming post that is about the rebuilding. The places of healing in the brokenness. But for now, I’m going to let myself be. I’m going to be patient and trust that I am moving forward. I am going to extend kindness to myself and others every chance I get. Because we are all fighting battles all the time, and kindness and connection are what we’ve got to soften the blows when we need it the most.