Have you ever known someone who has “come alive” after an accident or a recovery from an illness? Have you witnessed, or experienced, the intense gratitude and renewed appreciation for life that a brush with death can bring?
I had this opportunity three years ago when my sister and brother-in-law survived a car accident that could have easily killed them. This is a family who already lives deep appreciation for the wonder-filled life they have on an idyllic island on Canada’s west coast, doing work they love, and raising children they adore. But in the weeks that followed the accident, I witnessed even more teary-eyed gratitude, more words of love, more hugs, and more deep and meaningful eye contact, even in the throes of pain and a long recovery.
Accidents and illness, with their threat of life being taken from us, are reminders that we have a finite period of time on this earth and with each other. They seem to instantly inspire more appreciation and gratitude, and often lead to more overt expressions of love.
Travel good-byes are also reminders and I think it’s why so many of us are drawn to and enchanted by the departure lounge of airports. People dare to be open and expressive about the love they feel for one another when they say good-bye. They dare to look into each other’s eyes longer. They allow themselves tears. And they let their limbs and their hands and their bodies entwine and hold and savour.
In a culture that doesn’t often acknowledge life’s brevity and preciousness, these are beautiful moments indeed. One last look. One last touch. One last kiss.
Earlier this week, I sat on a train headed from Halifax to New Brunswick. We were stopped in Moncton. The smokers were done puffing and all the new passengers were loaded on. A lone woman in a coat too light for the season stood shivering on the platform. Her eyes were locked on someone else’s in the train, one car ahead of me.
She pulled her hood up and her eyes stayed put. She placed her hands deep in her pockets and her eyes didn’t once shift or leave. I don’t know if the person she stayed for was a lover or a parent or a child, but what I do know is that it was someone she loved deeply.
No one else was waving good-bye. No one else was on the platform. It didn’t matter. That woman didn’t once pull her eyes away to look at her watch or check her phone or to see the way the light was draining out of the sky. She didn’t avert her gaze until she had to, when the train, with the person she loved on it, pulled away. I saw her face in that moment that she turned to leave, and it seared me.
I saw nakedness, vulnerability, sadness, and tears. But I also saw incredible strength. This wasn’t someone broken-hearted. This was someone broken open. This was someone who had let themselves be cracked wide open.
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
The acknowledgement that none of us is here forever and that everyone we have ever loved will someday be gone has the power to either open us or close us up tight. We are born with tender hearts, and tender they stay, no matter how much fear and negative experience has layered them in an effort to protect us.
We don’t have to wait for an illness or an accident and we don’t have to hang out at the airport or the train station. Are there ways we can all practise cracking open? Can we dare, on a daily basis, to show the people in our lives just how much we love them?
This is my new year’s wish for you, dear reader. To throw your arms wide, to wear your heart on your sleeve, to get lost in teary-eyed gratitude, to wade into deep appreciation of everyone and everything surrounding you.
I wish for you more moments of opening to this short and beautiful dance. More moments of standing still and strong and present, as the woman on the train platform did, allowing the people you love—and the world—to see the power and strength and beauty in baring your heart.