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Broken Hearts and Valentines

I’ve always found Valentine’s Day strange. It’s a season when images of hearts, overused at the best of times, are everywhere.

Now often reduced to a red or pink emoji, that simple symbol can stand for breaking and making, stealing and healing – all of which is a bit jarring when the brokenness of a heart is a literal thing too.

I was born with a hole right in the middle of my heart, like Cupid’s arrow hitting a perfect bullseye and sending blood flowing in all sorts of directions it isn’t supposed to. When I was a child, I dabbled for a while with the dream of being a heart surgeon, because they were the best people I knew. Mine had huge hands and kind eyes, my own big friendly giant. He had a beard a bit like a picture-book Jesus, and I guess it’s true that he saved me.

I’m told the surgeon almost broke a toe kicking a filing cabinet in frustration when an operation had to be postponed at the eleventh hour. I can’t imagine what it must be like to feel that intensely on behalf of a stranger’s broken-hearted baby.

If you’ve never considered how often the language of hearts being damaged and mended is spoken about in everyday life, let me tell you that it’s everywhere. Sometimes, it’s a cheesy pop song about a broken heart that will pull me up short in a supermarket aisle, or a careless idiom that catches me unawares. The heart of the matter is that heartstrings tugged or hearts worn on sleeves are as much reminders of a leaky valve as the shiny white scar down my chest.

In a complicated world, it might be comforting to find things neatly packaged and card-shop glossy. But just as real hearts aren’t as perfectly formed as the heart emoji, real lives aren’t as tidy as high street marketers would have us think. Love isn’t tidy; it is as gritty, human, and paradoxically life-giving as a surgeon’s broken toe. When hearts break, even metaphorically, they don’t crack along a perfect zigzag into two jigsaw piece halves.

‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you,’ wrote Augustine, speaking of our relationship with God. Perhaps our hearts, leaky and broken as they may be, will always be restless if they are looking for a picture-perfect image of love that is far from the truth.


Hannah Rich
Hannah is a researcher at Theos. She tweets as @hannahmerich.

A longer version of this piece first appeared on the Theos website.

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  1. Thanks — a very thoughtful article.

    By Ian  -  15 Feb 2019
  2. Touching

    By Bruce Gulland  -  15 Feb 2019
  3. Transparent – Painful – Beautiful. Thank you.

    By George Irving  -  15 Feb 2019

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