Street smarts never came naturally to me. I was born with a ready brain and a heart that was uninhibited and ready to wrap the whole world in it’s embrace. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the soft don’t get very far, that the burden of feeling too much would drag me down and leave me heartbroken. So, from a young age, like many of us feelers do, I pulled up my britches and smartened up, hardening my exterior to protect my own heart, detaching myself to avoid pain.
When one heartbreak came and then the other, pain came in throes.
I told myself that being soft was wrong. Being soft revealed my cards. Being soft exposed me, my beating heart, open and vulnerable, at risk for breaking and breaking badly. Being soft was terrifying.
Because sometimes we face heartache, and it’s not the casual kind. Sometimes we are hurt by others, by life, by accident or disaster, and we swear to never let it happen again. Sometimes we endure losses that strip us of all we have, or at least of every ounce of joy we possess. And sometimes, we take shelter, running for cover, and swearing we won’t allow it to ever happen again.
Because sometimes protecting our heart from more pain becomes our purpose. And sometimes, we wall off the world, and we walk through life detached, guarded, in a thick armor that is only designed to keep others from getting too close. We can numb ourselves through anger, through bitterness, through substance, through avoidance, through addictions, through workaholism, through fake smiles with glistening eyes.
We call ourself wise. We call ourself street smart. We applaud ourself for the ways in which we don’t care, can’t be touched, can’t even be reached, our hearts are steel-plated, untouchable, unbreakable.
This was my life, and living like this was good in theory, until I realized I truly wanted to live. Until I realized that maybe living with an open heart was worth the peril.
Because what if we took the risk, dove in, and wore our humanity as a badge and not a burden? To be human is to be at risk of breaking, at risk of dying, at risk of loving and losing. To be alive is to risk all of these things to. Love, and you could lose. Chase a dream, and you might not reach it. Give everything you have, and you might not get anything in return.
But to never love? To never chase after dreams? To never give?
“It’s not just about being soft. It’s about being human. Protect yourself from never being hurt, and you aren’t living.” They were just words in casual conversation with a friend, but the weight they carried was immense. Because as terrified as I was of being hurt again, I’m was even more terrified of not living.
So I made the choice to live, to take the leap, to take the risk, to reject my tendencies to hide my heart, to protect myself, to defend and deflect. And I’m trying to get back to who I was— who I am somewhere beneath the pain— the one whose heart was ready to wrap the whole world in its embrace.
For me, and for anyone else who might be a little afraid, hear these words.
Don’t let this world harden you. It will wreck you. It will break you, but when [not if] you break, remember that you don’t have to harden. You don’t have to let all the shattered pieces stay rough and jagged. You don’t have to close off, covering your eyes, shutting down to all the bad, and consequently, all the good.You can break, and you can keep loving. You can break, and you can keep breathing. You can break, and you can resist the urge to turn away from it all, and you can uncover your eyes, rest your hands, no longer shielding and no longer pushing. And slowly, you can mend.
It’s hard, but when you’re ready, take the leap. I’ll be right beside you.