My heart has taken a heavy pruning.
I head out of the garage with my largest loppers and leather gloves. A big, established hulk of a wild rosebush threatens to wrap itself around my mailbox. The feral thing has overgrown its small garden plot and requires pruning. I cut away the unruly branches, moving carefully around the thorns. It is satisfying work, the sort of thing that occupies my hands more than my mind. My mind isn’t turned off, but it’s quieter.
I’ve never been much of one for roses. But somehow rose, and especially wild rose, has snuck its way into my affection. Rose is, of course, a symbol of love and devotion. In herbalism, it is medicine for a heavy heart. It is viewed as having the power to move anger, ease the heart, and soothe the nervous system. It is much more than a tacky Valentine’s Day bouquet.
I think about all of this because I’m getting a divorce. I think about all of this because I’m about to sell the house where I carried my wife, now ex-wife, across the threshold. The house where I built a chicken coop and put in six 4x8 raised beds. The house where I brought my baby home. I feel it goes without saying that I am someone with a heavy heart. The loss of my partner and best friend. The loss of my family: what I thought it was and what I thought it could be. All of that dissolved in an instant and has been replaced with struggle, conflict, and confusion. Nothing is as I ever thought it would be. I am recreating what family means every instant of the day. I don’t know where I will live, what sort of life I can afford, or what I will do for work. I am leaping into a future completely uncertain of what it will look like.
So, I’m here, plodding through the steps to ready the house to sell. It’s something material I can do. I have a to-do list. I can understand it. It’s overwhelming, but it is the only thing in my life that has a clear blueprint. Prune the rosebush by the mailbox. Check.
I have grown accustomed to having a broken heart. With the birth of my daughter my heart broke open and the crack remains, keeping me open, permeable, and tender. But, since the separation from my now ex-wife, my heart is shattered and shadowed. The grief and anger are so deep and intense that if I don’t just jump in, it would take all of my life force to just tread water. Skimming the surface isn’t an option. I have chosen to dive into the depths.
At times the circumstances of life take their biggest, sharpest shears and hack right into the fleshy, tender skin of your heart. And it’s not just the hardened, woody branches that get cut. The tender, bright green growth also meets its end. What is left is small and spindly. My heart has taken a heavy pruning. Old branches and new growth both lay strewn about the grass. My heart is in pieces. Part of me can’t help wondering: is all this cutting worth it? Is all the loss worth it? I don’t know. I feel riddled with holes. Bare. Painfully vulnerable.
I know that come spring, this rosebush will leaf out and fill with blossoms. The pruning creates space for growth and energy for abundant blooms. However, I will likely not be living in this house to see it. I will be elsewhere, living a very different life. Just as the rosebush will grow, I have to believe that my heart will grow. The leaves will fill in and the blossoms will come. It will be very slow and gradual. And, if I’m honest, right now it feels like that will never happen. But, I know it will eventually. For now, what I have is very humble. I am here with this pared down version of myself. There are no extra limbs under which I can hide. No spare leaves where I can take cover. I am whittled down to the most basic and elemental pieces of myself. All of my parts are exposed with little protection: my weaknesses and strengths, my loud mind and big heart, my overflow of emotions and undertow of anxiety.
This unmitigated nakedness is exhausting and deeply unsettling. Yet, in the midst of the pain, loss, anger, confusion, and anxiety there is also this opportunity to really see myself. I have lost many of the things that once defined me and filled my days. In this reduced state, I get to investigate what is truly meaningful to me. What matters? What do I do when faced with such devastating loss? Who am I at my core? What do I bring with me as I move forward? What do I leave behind?
Our losses transform us. The rosebush transforms from thorny overgrowth to dense blooms. But, let’s be honest, my own transformation will not be so poetic or pretty. I will not burst from a rosebud. The pruning is ugly and so is the growing. For a while every change, every new thing, every step forward will be a struggle. But somewhere along the way, after a number of months or years, I will be able to pause and see that after the cutting I did indeed flourish. My wish is not that the path forward be easy, elegant, or rosy. My wish is that the path forward make way for my spirit. That I find a way forward where I can honor the barest parts of myself.