Tuesday, January 06, 2009

when your heart is first broken

For Sage, Age Six
(To be read when your heart is first broken)*

Dear Sage,

As I am writing this, you are six years old – already fiercely bright, beautiful and a wonderful conversationalist. We just got back from our regular Father-Daughter Day, our special time during the weekend when we go out to raid the bookstores (you love to read, just like your mom and me), catch a movie (you’ve become quite the little critic) or grab a bite to eat (of course you share my love for fried chicken). Over lunch, you told me about the naughty boy in your first grade class who likes to kiss all the girls, how he’d rush over with his “yucky lips”, and how you and your friends would run screaming away from him.

If you’re reading this now, then you’re probably a teenager already, and you’ve met a boy, fallen in love, but now, for one reason or another, he’s out of your life.

I know you’re hurting right now. It probably feels like it’s the end of the world, of every possible happy moment in existence. In your mind, you’re asking questions – “Who’s to blame?”, “How did this happen?”, and most importantly “Why?” More likely than not, the answers you come up with are unsatisfactory, offering only more pain.

Sometimes, in life, there are no satisfying answers. Sometimes, you just have to move on.

I know how difficult it seems – he was cool, he was smart, he understood you. It is impossible to imagine anyone taking his place, his smile, the way he laughed, the way you two shared a togetherness that was unique in all of creation.

You need to understand two very important things, two very vital truths that I learned the hard way when I was growing up.

First, there will be someone else. Yes, that someone else will not be precisely him – it will be someone better. First loves are powerful things, it’s true, but as you grow older you will meet people who will understand you so much more. You are never alone, unless you choose solitude.

Second, you are worth the universe. Do not think yourself a failure because of your heartache. There are things within you, beyond your looks and smarts, that make you sublime – the beauty of your spirit, the strength of your will, the fierceness of your personality, the memories of every single one of your experiences, your ability to pick yourself up, dust off sadness and live life with joy - everything that makes you who you are. Only the blind, the foolish or the very young are unable to see these things.

Now with all the heavy heady stuff out of the way, here’s a bit of practical advice (you know me, Mr. Action Point, of course):

1. Put away the pictures and videos of him and you, and get rid of the lovey-dovey blog posts. For a fresh start, it is always better to freed from the past. Be strong in those moments when the memory of him threatens to overwhelm you, when something reminds you of the color of his eyes, of the way he looked at you, of the sound of his voice. Whoever he is – whoever he was – forget him and move on. Don’t worry, when you are much older, you can unearth the photos and retrieve the blog cache and have a good laugh.

2. It’s okay to cry. So go ahead and do so. Go ahead and wallow in sorrow – because something did end, and you were invested in it, and no pretty words can take away your pain right now. Go on. Part of being strong is knowing that you’re human too. But permit yourself no more than three days of darkened rooms and sad music. There is the rest of your life, after all.

3. Get yourself something nice. Indulge a little. You deserve it.

4. Write about it. I’ve found that doing so helps me deal with pain and disappointment. By reducing it to words, you not only exorcise your grief but end up with a story or a bit of creative non-fiction (yes, we writers profit from every experience).

And come to me and tell me about it.

And I will beat him up.

You will stop me, of course, embarrassment red on your face.

And we will laugh together, you and I – because we know that nothing in the world can take away the power of tomorrow.

Of hope.



*first appeared in Smart Parenting, December 2008



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